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A sad picture

The past week has been filled with landmark events on the Romanian Left.

For three days, starting on Thursday, the conference “Capitalist transformations in Romania: unequal development and social gaps” was held in Cluj and broadcast online. More than “90 researchers, after 3 years of research” presented their findings, a titanic work aimed – “to interrogate from a critical perspective the capitalist transformations that have affected Romanian society in the last three decades and to analyze the specific political and economic trajectory of Romania” [1]. Also from the description of the event, the stake was even more ambitious – “The stake of this event is to highlight the epistemological themes and positions that have structured the production of knowledge about the post-communist transition” [2].

Although on the surface we would expect a substantive critique of capitalism, the description suggests not a problem of substance, but one of faulty implementation of an otherwise successful system: “The economic model based on stimulating exports has generated in Romania one of the highest growth rates in Central and Eastern Europe and has transformed the Romanian economy into an attractive destination for foreign direct capital investment” [3]. Incidentally, the only politically-affiliated guests were from DEMOS and USR – social democracy and neoliberalism – the very currents that have monopolized these 33 years of capitalism.

Of the presentations I listened to, the most successful seemed to me to be that of Professor Andrei Mocearov, who gave a real critique of capitalist economics. And at the opposite pole: the intervention of a member of the USR government, who advertised the laws promoted by them, without being challenged by any of the participants.

But before we start to talk about “capitalism”, we must remember that the money for such “capitalist criticism” conferences is not given by socialist/anti-capitalist countries, but by capitalism itself. Even the “Capitalist Transformations…” project has received over 1 million euros [4]. It is, in fact, the academic reproduction of Capitalism.

The reproduction and inoculation of capitalist discourse through useful intellectuals is nothing new, being the very principle of Gramsci’s ‘Cultural Hegemony’. Moreover, this mechanism of gratification and commodification of intellectuals, which has been operating for many years, empirically demonstrates its results and merits even through today’s social and political realities, through the profound degradation of the whole society, on all levels. I suppose it is obligatory that when the ship is sinking, that the orchestra should still play.

Of course some participants may even have hoped to convey a message against the dominant discourse. Nor can we condemn those caught up in the inertia of capitalist logic and “carried away” like Pavlov’s dog. As Adi Schiop said – “perhaps laziness is the only escape from capitalism”.

On Saturday, when the last day of the “production of knowledge on the post-communist transition” (see above) was coming to an end, an alternative event of “communist production” was taking place in Bucharest, at the North Railway Station, in the CFR Syndicate Hall – the “Launch of the Socialist Romania Alliance”. By the simplicity of the event, we could call it – production after the alienation of the “means of production”.

Apart from obtaining the famous coat of arms of the RSR – with spikes and springs – as an electoral emblem, the alliance in question was still reminiscent of communism/socialism, only through the senility of its members. The event began with folk songs, dancers in traditional costumes and the singing of “Three colours I know in the world”, the anthem from the days when television knew only two colours. At a time when nationalist extremists are once again struggling to come to power, with patriotic rhetoric even being taken up by intelligence chiefs, choosing such a scenario for the launch of a “socialist” alliance can be considered uninspired, to say the least.

It reminded me of the Japanese soldier who went into hiding 29 years after the end of World War II because no one told him the war was over. If until its end, Romanian socialism represented (in theory at least) a force for social and economic progress, the “socialists” of this alliance suggest no progress, but rather a captivity in time – the effect of a major trauma that cannot be overcome keeps the victim in that moment, repeated over and over again. 33 years later, these people again share the joy of moments when their lives had a different meaning, a different horizon and fulfillment. We could try an imaginary projection, many years into the future, into a society where capitalism may no longer exist – with people gathering in the same way, ritualistically repeating together the lost experiences of capitalism – over-consumption, pushing a trolley in a supermarket, sitting in traffic… even if they no longer make sense.

These “socialists” talk more about what was 33 years ago than about any program or solution anchored in the present and current problems. I would correct Maria Cernat who called them “socialism with Romanian characteristics” [5] – because it is hard to imagine that what was appropriate as socialism 33 years ago is still socialism today. And if Ceaușescu used nationalism as a political and propaganda calculation, with the “socialists” above, nationalism remained only a disjointed physiological reaction.          

The landscape of the Romanian Left looks very bleak after the two events, the two faces of the “Left” in the mirror. It is practically the separation of the intelligentsia from the working class. A Marx and Engels who would have caught a grant and remained trapped in this circular logic, in which the existence of the grant depends on the perpetuation of the problem, and not its solution.

Also on Saturday, March 25, was Claude Karnoouh’s birthday. He would have been 83. Every time I think of the Romanian or international Left, I remember his criticism and try to imagine what he would have said:

“How do you see the future of the Left?

Claude Karnoouh: Very gloomy…” [6].  

 Incisive and uncompromising, with a wide intellectual openness, Claude was a teacher and mentor to many, and an example of courage and verticality, “an old musketeer” as Paul Cernat called him. But with all his relentlessly clear and uncompromising criticism, there always remained at the end an optimism, like a hidden force, that takes root and circulates beyond materialism and human nothingness, a force that you come to know after many years of life lived with courage and love. It is the most important gift kept from Claude Karnoouh.

This article was originally published in Romanian, here.

[1] http://www.transformari-capitaliste.ro/?fbclid=IwAR293dXgd80Q0kTm12UioY6yQw7FN0A1osHeKNJvVPQ0dCkZaAbtlg7nj3Y

[2] Idem

[3] Idem

[4] Idem

[5] https://baricadaromania.substack.com/p/socialismul-cu-caracteristici-romanesti?utm_source=direct&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&fbclid=IwAR19unQggEyt70pQ1NF9uIcjeHBr6pwBwqOTJ8j_qx2gPkF1CE-XyyBfClI

[6] Interview with Claude Karnoouh

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