Marxist Matriarchy: We Tasted it in Romania – And it Was Bitter!
(Excerpt from “Of Clay and Iron: The Great American Apostasy”)
A character that had a massive impact on Socialist Romania between 1965 – 1989 is Elena Ceausescu, wife and second in command to Nicolae Ceausescu. She was, arguably, the most significant driving force behind Romania adopting draconically small food rations.
I am not sure why she remained an obscure figure in the international history; it could be because Romania is so embarrassed by her that it tried to erase her existence. However, she was one of the most prolific Marxist figures in the history of the Socialist era in East Europe. Her rise and fall is a haunting example of what the rise and fall of Marxist matriarchy can do to a nation.
Elena Ceausescu was nick-named “The She-Pharaoh” in Romania. Once her husband ascended to political power, Elena too developed a taste for power. There is no evidence that she ever graduated middle school or high school. Yet, she was one of the 25 graduates of a Phd. in Macro-Molecular Chemistry, in 1967, when she became a Doctor in the field.
Her graduation exam was held in secret, at a time outside the established examination schedule; the examiners who came to examine her in an open-door exam (open to the public), found out that her exam already took place and she had already been awarded the title of “Doctor”.
Upon reviewing the written work, the examiners found her written thesis to be scientifically correct. It is now a known fact that the work had been written by other Doctors in Chemistry, a few highly rated scientists who at the time were working at a renowned Research Institute in Chemistry. In the thesis, there are references to using a nuclear magnetic resonance device. At the time, no Romanian Research Institute owned or had access to a device like that. This suggests that at least part of the thesis had been written by foreign scientists.
The massive efforts that followed in the next years to promote Elena Ceausescu as a prolific Chemist and Researcher and ultimately as the head of the National Council for Scientific Research, had included the systematic discouragement of genuinely talented and intelligent young Researchers and Chemists who previously had brilliant results. No one was allowed to rise above her level or to shadow the “National Lead Scientist” – title that she had adorned herself with.
At the time of her “scientific ascent”, different researchers in Romania were working on collaborative projects with various countries. Those projects either fell under her patronage immediately, and she was added to the team as a valuable member of the collective, or the projects lost the funding overnight with no explanation. She soon put together a team of researchers who were working under her, producing scientific papers and studies. All these studies were published under her name only. Her team of researchers was composed out of scared researchers, who were threatened and blackmailed into working under her name, and out of extremely passionate researchers who were willing to pass on the plate of glory for the sake of developing the field.
Without Elena becoming a scientific authority, none of the couple’s plans for reducing the use of internal resources in order to pay the external debt ahead of time would have worked. Their independence from the Soviet Union would also have been threatened; less Elena measured to the task of becoming Nicolae Ceausescu’s devoted ally. Contrary to popular belief, Romania was never part of the Soviet Union, but was certainly an “anchor state”. Romania’s relative independence was a major concern of Nicolae Ceausescu, as he wouldn’t have had the freedon to run the country as he wanted, had the Soviets Annexed Romania to the Union. Nicolae Ceausescu’s greatest moment of popularity came in 1968, when he condemned in a public speech the Czechoslovak invasion by the Soviet troops. Fearing retribution, wanting to consolidate his power and trying to safe proof his role against any political maneuvers coming from the Soviet powers (which still had great influence over the Romania political decisions), Ceausescu turned his wife into his personal Cerberus. This explains the tremendous effort poured into depicting Elena as an international scientist of the highest rank and the further efforts invested into turning Elena into a powerful political figure independently from her husband.
Elena Ceausescu became full member of the Central Committee in 1972. That was a very significant event in her political career, as it opened the doors to her utter political ascent. From that point on, developing the National Feeding Program for the population was half step away. Who better to supervise the development of a Feeding Program but a Renowned Scientist of International caliber? Lucky us, Romania had one at home – our “beloved Mother of the Nation”, as she used to call herself.
(*Note: The role of a Central Committee in Marxist parties, the Central Committee is that of a central executive body. This governing body consists of party members elected from the delegates present at the party congress. The Central Committee makes decisions on behalf of the party between two Congress meetings, and is the one who chooses the members of the Political Bureau. The “political bureau” is the leading executive organization for multiple Marxist parties, but it is not a governmental organization. In Marxist states, the parties are (very conveniently for the government!) considered the “vanguard of the people”. Therefore, the Marxist parties have the power to control the state, and party officials in political offices who do not hold government positions still have extremely high power.
Usually, if the Marxist political parties say that the people support a particular cause, the government will allow for that cause to move forward. This is why the members of the party were carefully selected and if one would not agree with the Marxist agenda, they would be removed immediately from the party. This system gives people the illusion that they are in power, in spite of the fact that their voices are never heard. In a nutshell, the government chooses the members of the parties and the party members choose the members of the government. And when they want to push an agenda, both forces say: “The people are asking for action…”)
In other words, with the admission in the Central Committee, the political doors swung wide for Elena to gain even more executive power in the state, just as she and her husband planned. She became way more than a First Lady or a “plus one” of the President. She became the most powerful person in the state, and the most vocal activist for the flourishing Marxism in Romania. Overnight, she became representative for Arges (a county near by the capital), and one year later she became member of the Executive Committee of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. What is interesting to notice is that the two of them, Nicolae and Elena, had always worked as a team, in perfect unity. The nature of their relationship was bordering bizzare, even for a conservative society in which nuclear families are united. Their union seemed to be more of an unhealthy, melting-into-each-other kind of codependent relationship, rather than a joint, intellectual effort of two properly self-defined individuals, to lead a state together.
In an effort to create justice for all, the Ceausescu couple decided that the state should develop and push social justice programs. In 1974, they adopted a law called “The Code of Socialist Ethics and Equity”. One of the measures adopted in this effort to create an “equal society” was to make it illegal for people to have two jobs. The consequence is that, to this day, Elena Ceausescu is the only woman in the recorded history who at the same time developed a brilliant scientific career, collected all most powerful political titles in the state (less her husband’s title) and purchased one of the vastest collections of rare, antique or extremely expensive jewelry from across the world out of public finances. Some of her rare jewelry were found by the revolutionary in December 1989, when the Causescu were killed. Some of her jewelry and bank accounts have never been found. The records show that in spite the fact that in Romania it was illegal to have two incomes, Elena, the Mother of all Mothers, was cumulating 21,000 Romanian lei / month from two pay-checks: one salary for her political positions and one salary for her scientific research, from the nationalized Chemistry Research Institute. This income of hers had never been spent, as all her expenses – starting with toilet paper and ending with expensive planes – were covered from the national treasury at the state’s expense. Her income had always been deposited into her children’s bank accounts.
In comparison, my father’s salary, considered to be a rather large salary – enough to feed 4 – was 1,100-1,200 lei / month. Even Nicolae, her husband, did not have two pay-checks – she was the only person in the country for whom this exception was made. Everybody had been held back, whilst an ignorant, uneducated woman was fraudulently awarded titles that others work decades for, titles that served exclusively to her personal benefit and to her own ever-growing riches. (In Marxism, everyone is equal, but there are some people who are more equal than others.)
Knowing her loyalty laid with him to the end, in 1976, Ceausescu created a new powerful position for Elena. He created the Problem-Solving Committee for Party Members and State Members of the Central Committee of the Marxist Party – and named Elena president of this Committee. Her role was to supervise all social justice activists, all dignitaries, all directors and all mayors. Her power kept increasing to such a level that in 1979 Elena was managing the Party, the Education Department, Research Department, Activism and Propaganda Department, and the Culture Department over the entire state. This led to Elena being powerful enough to create a position for herself within the state where she became, de-facto, second in command in the state. Her husband ran “Office 1” and she ran “Office 2”. After 1976 Elena’s political power was consolidated to the point where Nicolae was able to take off for political visits and leave the country in her hands for extended periods of time. It became a known fact that unless they had Elena’s approval, no law project would pass Nicolae’s approval. She became the leading force from the shadow.
By 1980, the couple’s tyranny became beyond anything that the soviet bloc had seen up to that point. The Soviet Union started to feel they’re losing their grip on Ceausescu starting with his speech in 1968; by now, with Elena as his political image manager and with her in so many key functions in the state, the Soviet Union was merely a witness of the starvation of the nation rather than a complicit. Romania became more Marxist than Marx himself, and the scarcity of food and lack of basic hygienic resources is probably impossible for me to explain and for you to imagine, because it’s unimaginable in what conditions of poverty and desolation a rich nation can be brought to in merely a few decades. The worse our life conditions, the louder Elena’s PR campaigns for accepting and embracing Marxism and the louder the media praises for the Marxist leaders.
Elena’s Practical Role in Starving the Population
For almost a decade, under Ceausescu’s tyranny, Romanians survived on terribly reduced food rations. The Marxist economy did not work in Romania either – but our tyrannical leaders decided to cling on to power and push the system even further than it had ever been pushed in the Soviet Union, with the hope that it will fix itself.
One of the state’s best kept secrets was the exact amount of external post-war debt and the reimbursement program that Romania signed with other countries, in order to cover the war debt. We were kept in dark about the numbers; the only information that made it to the people was that we needed to tighten the belt even more, work more, eat less, and pay off our external debt.
The pie in the sky was that if we make a collective effort to pay off the debt, we will all somehow make it to a better stage in the development of the country, everyone will have access to resources according to its own needs, food will become available on the market and we will have hot water on demand.
Romania became officially Marxist in 1948. A series of measures and laws were introduced in order to facilitate strict control over the population, over the production and over the resources.
The legislation introduced prior to 1982 prepared the way for a law that no one ever believed would be imposed in Romania: bread rationing. Bread is not only one of the main products Romanians eat, it is also a symbol of life in Romanian culture. Romania used to be called “The Bread Basket of Europe”. All meals are accompanied by bread in Romania, to this day. Rationing the bread took a great psychological toll on people. People were starved already, but the bread rationing was a step further than anyone thought Romania was going to be pushed towards. Under the influence of propaganda and the fear of the secret police and informers (spies), Romanians stayed silent for almost one more decade of tyranny.
With the exception of Bucharest (the capital), where bread and meat were not officially rationed, everywhere else in the country bread, sugar, meat, and oil, were occasionally available for purchase, but exclusively based on “food cards”. However, even without being rationed, food was never available in the stores.
People were not allowed to purchase more than what was “rightfully theirs”, based on what the law decided each person should eat. Snacks, candies and comfort foods were alien concepts to us. Everyone ate what the law said, when the state allowed it. This was seen as a compassionate, collective way of laying down our basic human rights, for our kids to live without debt. Everything was done “for the good of the kids”.
The “Food Cards” necessary to purchase food were distributed exclusively through the work place, and each person worked where the government assigned them. When kids were coming to age, the state would release the official directives on who needs to go into what kind of careers, based on micro-management of labor force across the country, not on capabilities or skills. Nepotism was a big contributing factor to the labor directives as well. The government would conduct strict demographic control; abortions were illegal and censuses were organized random and often, at the state’s will. Then, based on the censuses, very exact amounts of food would be distributed in each area, based on the number of residents in each neighborhood. Romanians didn’t use to use the words “purchase” or “going shopping”. Nobody went shopping. Just like a dog knows it’s meal time when the master plates the food, every time we would see the brandless “food truck” come in the neighborhood, we knew there was going to be food in the store for a very few hours, so everyone would dropping everything they were doing and rush to the store; we were not buying food, we were being “handed out food”. That’s the phrase we used to use for grocery shopping. We were being fed.
Grocery stores were used merely as distribution centers for food, usually once a month. For them, it was like feeding the cattle.
The bread rationing law introduced in 1982 was preceded by the so-called “Law for Establishing, Distributing and Implementing the Rightful Use of Resources by County, for Providing Necessary Supplies for the Population”. This law was a strict guideline rigorously enforced by the authorities who were establishing – based on demographic numbers and total calories allowed to be consumed daily by a person – how much food should be distributed to each county. Also, based on location, city folks were considered superior to village folks, so city folks rations were larger than village folks rations; but not with a lot. Rural and especially agricultural communities were severely crushed by the system, as people were pushed into cities. City folks were told that they are given Food Cards for their own good, so that village folks can’t steal their food from them. The peasants were not allowed to buy bread (or other food) from the city; in fact, the rationing of bread was justified in legislation through a lie: Ceausescu’s propaganda machine started the rumor that the peasants bought large quantities of bread to feed their animals. So peasants and rural area folks were not allowed to shop in cities, and they were also not allowed to slaughter their own critters – especially not calves, steers, pigs, sheep, etc. without approval. In fact, there were supervisors who were coming yearly to inspect the village households and write down how many critters and what kind each household had. The party was too concerned about food quality – supposedly – to allow people to slaughter their own meat for their own consumption; so the state put together a livestock purchasing program, under which the state was purchasing the animals from the peasants at ridiculously small sums, and selling them for export at good prices. With the money obtained, the peasants were allowed to purchase meat slaughtered by the butcher shop owned by the government, at ridiculously high prices. The whole plan was to allow people to eat just about enough not to die. The saved money was supposed to go, in theory, towards paying the external debt. Practically, a lot of it stopped in the leader’s pockets. However, during this whole process of systematic starvation, Ceausescu ordered the Central Committee to produce a scientific study that reveals how much a person needs to eat in order to survive.
In 1982, the “The Program for Scientific Feeding of the Population” was launched under the careful directive, guidance and blessing of Elena Ceausescu. Elena was directly responsible with making sure that the population has enough food, and as someone in a position of unchecked power, she sure made sure we were starving. This document, which was ultimately the fruit of matriarchical tyranny, established the number of calories per meal that a person is allowed to eat, the size of the food rations and the weight Romanians must weight. Believe me, obesity had never been a problem in Romania under this regime.
These scientific studies have concluded that a Romanian should eat no more than:
– 132-154 pounds of meat OR meat products / year (we were basically raised on a salami called “The Victory”, made out of horse meat mixed with soy; chicken feet and pork feet were the most common meat source; hot dogs and baloney were rare, but still more common than unprocessed meat.)
– 16-20 pounds fish OR fish made products / year (we used to have something called “fish paste”, made out of mushed fish organs and inferior quality fish meat – that was the “fish products” they were referring to)
– 55 gallons milk or dairy products / year
– 260-280 eggs / year
– 35 pounds lard or butter or margarine / year
– 375 – 395 pounds vegetables / year
– 150 – 195 pounds potatoes / year
– 670 pounds grain vegetables (like beans, peas, etc.) / year
– 140-200 pounds fruit products (like jam, marmalade, jelly and fruit juice) / year
– 48-55 pounds sugar / year
Then, in 1984, the year I was born, the new scientific study came out, and it proved that the diet above is debauchery, so Romanians only needed:
– 96 pounds meat / year – that is under 2 pounds of meat or meat products / week
– 20 gallons milk / year – 1/3 gallon milk / week
– 365 pounds vegetables / year – 7 pounds / week
– 2 pound sugar / month
– 2 pounds oil / month
– 3.5 oz butter / month
– 2 pounds flour / month
Dairy products were distributed daily to the stores, but in order to get some, you had to wait in line from 4.00-5.00 am, because the stocks were small and depleted quickly. My father sometimes would go to wait in line from 3am, at 5am my mother would go to take his place as he needed to be at work at 6am. She would sometimes come back home after 10am, with no purchases, because the milk sold out right in front of her. This was terribly heartbreaking and spirit breaking, especially in winter, when she would come home frozen, to an unheated house. Eggs were also a rarity, and often the cartons contained broken eggs, which people struggled to collect from the package, not to waste anything. I don’t think any American had ever saved a broken egg from a carton.
In Bucharest, the capital, the stores had fairly often canned vegetables and Vietnamese shrimp chips. People were able to find rice (packed up together with weeds and dirt and rocks; we were “sorting the rice” manually every time before cooking), canned peas or tomato paste, seeds and green onions – in season only. The cheapest, lowest quality of Vietnamese shrimp chips were imported in industrial quantities and people were living off them. Popcorn was a delicacy. Soda or pop drinks were nonexistent on the market.
Each neighborhood had one grocery store, one hospital, one pharmacy, one school, one kindergarten, one market. Each family was ascribed to their one particular store and was not allowed to purchase anything in any other store, or to send their kids to a school they were not ascribed to. The head of the household would go every month to the store manager, with his ID and his flat ID card (yes, flats used to have ID cards, just like people, because they belonged to the government; just like people. There was no private property.) The head of the household was asked how many people live in his household, including renters, and the right number of people was recorded. One couldn’t lie, because there were randomized accuracy checks conducted by the secret police, at odd times at night. The store manager would fill in the “Food Card” with the details and the food card would be good for one month. Every day you would go purchase your daily food ration and they would punch in your card at the store.
The manager of the store would calculate each family’s allowance and record it in the store database and on the Food Card. The “store manager” position was very powerful; if someone had an argument with the store manager even years before they became the store manager, they risked starving. Store managers would sometimes take their cut out of each family’s rations, one loaf of bread here and one loaf of bread there (yes, the bread rations were given out in counted slices of bread, not whole loaves). Whoever had a close relative or became a store manager, was set. One saying that people would repeat often was “A friend who is a store manager in communism is more valuable than an estate in capitalism”. There is so much truth to that. Those who were friends with store managers or even store clerks also had access once in a while to coffee, oranges, chocolate or candy, delicacies that rarely reached the store shelves because they were usually distributed in secret to friends and family of the County Food Warehouse managers or store managers directly from the warehouse. Knowing someone who managed a store or a warehouse mattered more than having money, because people with money and no friends starved and people with friends survived.
Needless to say, Romanians developed the most lucrative food black market seen in Europe, in order to have access to the bare minimum food needed to survive. Storing food long term and stashing supplies was considered gouging and was punishable by imprisonment – and the secret police would actually come and check, to make sure no one is stacking up on food.
As ridiculous as it sounds, in the world I grew up in, food was more valuable than money, and if you had food to pay with, you could buy anything. This is why the richest people in Romania were the shepherds who lived so deep in the steep mountains and so scattered from each other, that it was not worth for the police to chase them down. They were the ones who purchased helicopters by selling milk, meat, wool and cheese, and became so rich they were able to afford to send their kids to be taught in Western schools and bring capitalism back to Romania. The people who controlled the food supply were the people who had power.
This is why, the State Council put out a Decree No. 306/1981 on “measures to prevent and combat acts that affect the good supply of the population” on October 1981. This decree established penalties for Romanians who made food supplies. “It is a crime of gouging and it is punished according to the provisions of the Criminal Code with imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years, for anyone to purchase from the state and collective commercial units, with the intent to store, in quantities exceeding the needs of family consumption for a period of one month, oil, sugar, flour, corn, rice, coffee, as well as other foodstuffs whose storage affects the interests of other buyers and the good supply of the population”, was the provision made by article 1 of Decree 306. The punishment also referred to peasants who bought bread in town. Vendors who sold more than the established ration did not escape punishment either, if caught. “The staff of the commercial units is obliged to sell to the buyers the food products provided in Art. 1 only in the quantities and conditions established by law. Failure to comply with the provisions of Article 1 constitutes a crime and is punishable by imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years “, was written in Article 4 of the Decree.
The main problem though was not the food ration; the problem was that even if one was allowed to purchase two pounds of sugar or flour per month, the stores never actually carried food. People had money and more often than not, were unable to purchase sugar months in a row because they couldn’t find any. On the days when there would be chicken available in the stores – remember, the size of the chickens was literally the size of pigeons – the grocery stores looked like a Black Friday sale. People were actually stepping on each other, fighting to get food – all. The. Time. That was our “normal” shopping.
Under Ceausescu, Romanians invented all sorts of food recipes that were fit for the poverty level. In the absence of meat, stews were made out of chopped soy salami, which was available. In the absence of chicken, the Romanians were eating fried soy salami with French fries. As the ration of eggs did not allow the Romanians in the city to prepare cakes too often at home (and there were no cakes in the store – or even cake mixes), crushed tea biscuits were a substitute for cakes. The Romanians had also found a solution for baking old bread purchased from the grocery store. Store bought bread was burned, over-cooked and as hard as rocks – literally. (There were incidents where people fought over bread at the store and they ended up with bleeding heads because one of them would grab a loaf of bread and smack the other one over the head.) Burned bread cooked in steam softened, and got a seemingly fresh consistency. Bananas and oranges that were brought in the stores only at Christmas were often unripe and people would wrap them in newspaper near a heat source, to ripen faster.
First time when we saw bananas, it was right after the revolution. One of our neighbors started importing on the black market food from Serbia, and my mother paid a real fortune for a stack of bananas. We got 8 bananas, two for each, and she paid upfront about 300 lei for them. (My father’s paycheck was $1,100-1,200 lei.) I can still hear her telling our neighbor: “I heard the Serbians have bananas. Can you see if you can find any and bring some for my kids?”. I asked what those were and she said: “Oh, you’ll see when they get here.” We waited for a few weeks. By the time the neighbor arrived back, I – six at the time – had completely forgotten about them. One day my parents weren’t home and the neighbor knocked at the door and gave them to me. She meant to leave but turned back and said: “Don’t eat them all at once. Take one bite and if your tummy hurts, don’t eat the rest till mommy gets home, okay? And if it doesn’t hurt, don’t eat more than one.” Well, me and my brother, we didn’t know they needed to be peeled. We washed them and bit the peels and realized they needed to be pealed through the trial and error process. So when my mother came home, we told her what we did, and she laughed and said: “Well, let’s open them like the Americans do.” – and opened them from the wrong end. It took another 3 years for a Dutch minister to come to Romania, to teach us how one is supposed to peel a banana “like an American”.