Published on November 25th, 20120
When the Communists took over Romania – The Turning Point of the 1946 General Elections
By Lakatos Artur, NTNU
The General election in Romania in 1946 resulted in the Communist Party and its allies obtaining the overwhelming majority in the Assembly of Deputies. This paved the way for the general transformation of Romanian society, from a multi-party political system into a Stalinist one.
This historical event has a large bibliography authored by Romanian scholars, the reason beeing that most events and processes of the Communist in Romania– may they be on Economic, Social or Political plan – can be traced back to this moment. In this present paper I try to present a synthetic image for these events, of their actors, trying to explain who the main actors were, their motivation, and the mechanisms which led to the final result.
Generally speaking, in post-war years Romania’s Constitutional legitimacy had roots back to the Constitution from 1923. Romania was a Constitutional Monarchy, with a multi-party political system. Its main characteristics were:
- Voting right was universal, masculine, and exercised from the age of 21
- A parliamentary mandate, just as the mandate of the Government, was legally for four years. The Parliament could dissolve itself, or could be dissolved by the Monarch by Royal Decree (happened 8 times). If the Prime Minister resigned, new parliamentary elections would be held.
- The King named the Prime-Minister following discussions with major political parties. The appointed Prime-Minister organized elections, which usually he won.
- The winning party, when it obtained at least 40 percent of the votes, received automatically 2/3 of seats in Parliament. This majority bonus offered a comfortable majority for the ruling party, without the need of shaping alliances with other parties.
- The Parliament had two chambers: the Senate, in which a part were “senators by right” (bishops of important churches, university rectors, etc.) while others were elected. In the Chamber of Deputies, all deputies were elected.
Some unofficial, but well-known characteristics of inter war period elections were:
- While organizing elections, the nominated Government usually made sure, that the results would not be compromised. All kind of legal and illegal measures were used to secure the final victory, fraud and electoral violence were commonplace.
- Even more important was the counting of the votes, after the elections. It was less important what was voted for: more important was what the official result was.
Following the end of the war, general respect and trust for interwar institutions was greatly diminished, and constitutional norms had less respect than before. Beside this, the sovereignty of the country was limited by victorious great powers of the war. Since Romania was included among the losers of the WWII, the Allied Control Commission, having its seat in Bucharest, could heavily influence Romanian society.
The role of the Soviet Union
In the case of Romania, the power which had the strongest influence was the Soviet Union who had troops stationed there. Officially, the Commission was placed under the leadership of general Rodion Malinovsky. The most active Soviet official was Andrey Vyshinsky, nicknamed for his brutality and disdain toward his Romanian interlocutors, V-3. He was the one who forced King Michael I to appoint Dr. Petru Groza, the president of the Plowmen’s Front as Prime Minister. It is said that during his violent verbal fight with the King, Vyshinsky hit the table with his fist and shouted “here, I am Yalta!” and when left, slammed the door violently.
As a result of Soviet pressure, King Michael I appointed Petru Groza (head of the Plowmen’s Front) as Prime Minister. He formed a coalition government from which the Communist Party (CP) was the most influential one. The Bloc of Democratic Parties represented the Government Coalition. Its members were officially:
Romanian Communist Party
Social Democratic Party
National Liberal Party- Tătărescu
Union of Patriots
National Peasants’ Party –Anton Alexandrescu
National People’s Party
Jewish Democratic Committee
The Romanian parties
The Romanian Communist Party was the main force of the Coalition, but not necessary the most popular political formation. It was represented with the following portfolios: (Teohari Georgescu), Justice (Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu), Communication (Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej), Propaganda (Petre Constantinescu-Iași), and Finance (Vasile Luca). It also had the best relations with Moscow. Even though it had less than 1000 registered members in 1944 (due to its illegal existence), the Party experienced a serious growth, and in 1947 consisted of 700,000 registered members.
Its leadership was divided. In 1946, following to the assassination of former party-leader Ștefan Foriș, power was divided between two rival factions, the “prison“ faction led by Gheorghiu-Dej and the “Moscovite” faction, led by Anna Pauker. In this phase, Communist leaders were extremely careful, as they wanted to prevent that their internal disputes received any publicity.
Another important component of the Bloc was the Social Democratic Party (SDP), founded in 1927 by Titel Petrescy as an alternative to the communists in 1927. It was banned in 1938 by King Carol II., only to be re-founded in 1944. Internally, there were divisions between pro-Communists and pro-Western Social Democrats. In 1946, the pro-communist Ștefan Voitec was the party leader, while the founding father of the Party, Titel Petrescu, was excluded.
In Transylvania, the SDP had a strong Hungarian faction, which had as key figure the leader of the Printers Syndicate, István Lakatos. This faction often operated autonomously from the central leadership, one of its main examples being the process how Lakatos imposed himself as deputy against the will of the party’s central leadership.
Battle for the Farm Vote
The Ploughmen’s Front (PF) was founded in 1926 by lawyer dr. Petru Groza. It had strong regional (South-Transylvanian), agrarian, and also Republican character. Its alliance with the Communists started in 1935 as measure against the rise of the Romanian extreme right. The Communists party proved to be an important ally against the National Peasants’ Party, since they were competing for the votes of the same social class. In general, These two political forces disagreed on the lion’s share of issues. Since the Communists were adepts of collectivization, even by force, the PF wanted to preserve the intangibility of agrarian property, and that associations and cooperatives should be created only by the free initiative of the peasantry involved.
Dissent factions of historically democratic parties also played an important role. Internal frictions in the National Peasants’ Party and the National Liberal Party caused the formation of dissent groups who were claimed themselves to be the true representatives of the party’s heritage. The three most important dissent groups were:
- DPP- Nicolae Lupu
- NPP-Anton Alexandrescu
- NLP-Gheorghe Tătărescu
The latter was probably the most important dissent group, led by a former Liberal Prime-Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Groza Government, Gheorghe Tătărescu. He was the son of a successful Romanian general and studied Law in Bucharest and Paris. At young age he manifested sympathy for Socialist ideas, but in 1912 he joined the National Liberal Party. Tătărescu was elected deputy for the first time in 1919. He was a key-figure of the party fraction “Young Liberals” and eventually became the leader of this fraction.
He became Prime Minister of Romania twice, between 1934–37 and 1939–40. Tătărescu’s conflict with the Brătianu Liberal dinasty led to the split of the Party. He was convinced that the West had abandoned Romania, and started working on improving relations with the Soviet Union. However, he still was an adept of inviolability of private property and of the constitutional monarchy.
Other, smaller allies in the bloc were:
- The Patriotic Defense (Apărarea Patriotică), an association of War veterans. Pro-soviet and pro-Communist, but also nationalistic organization, which represented the bridge for communication between the Communists and the Army. It was acting often as a militia for the CP.
- National People’s Party, formed by the Communists at the beginning of 1946, designed to attract the votes of the middle-class and small intellectuals, who could otherwise been scared away by the Communist rhetoric about class-struggle.
- The Jewish Democratic Committee was founded in 1945, 25 April, in the presence of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Most of its members were coming from the small bourgeoisie, and oriented to the left. The organization was not very religious and became strongly anti-Zionist.
The Hungarian minority in Romania proved to be an important ally for the Government. The Hungarian People’s Union (HPU) was founded in 1944 on the remnants of a South-Transylvanian smaller left-oriented Union, and was designed to represent the interests of Hungarian Minority in Romania. At the beginning it had more of an integrating character, but gradually slipped toward the Communist Party with most of its leaders having double membership in the CP and in the HPU. For several reasons the HPU choose to not join the Groza government and to run on separate lists on the elections. The two most important reasons are:
- By doing this, the Bloc neutralized in great part chauvinistic anti-Hungarian rhetoric of Historical parties
- By running on separate lists, the message of the HPU could be addressed to those elements of the Hungarian minority which did not share the Communist beliefs.
Beside its own membership and political Allies, the Communists also relied on their so-called “mass-organizations“ which were professional and civilian associations. Not all the members of these organizations were Communists. In the following, as illustration, we present a statistics on regional level, which illustrates the character of these organizations and their strength in numbers compared to the Communist Party.
The Bloc had its competitors in two strong democratic parties with a firm pro-western orientation. Of these, the Natonal Peasants’ Party (NPP), led by Iuliu Maniu, represented the most important danger to Communist supremacy. The NPP was the strongest alternative in 1946 for the Bloc, end enjoyed high popularity throughout the country.
It was founded in 1926, by the union of the Romanian National Party from Transylvania and the Peasants’ Party from the Old Kingdom. NPP was characterized by an orientation toward the West, orientation toward realities of Romanian country-side, being positive toward free-trade (its economic program was name “the Policy of Open Doors”), and fronting values associated with conservative nationalism.
In a negative sense, its rhetoric often turned to formulas of populism and aggressive nationalism. Most of the time their rhetoric was a mixture of interwar agrarian ideology and promotion of values of conservative nationalism. Adepts of the Communists and NPP often accused each other of accepting former Iron Guard members among their ranks. These were often true, yet exaggerated, accusations.
The party was led by the charismatic, very popular, and experienced politician Iuliu Maniu. This cunning politican started his political career in the parliament of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and was among the architects of the Union of Transylvania He was Prime Minister of Romania between 1928–33 and played an important role in several events with great impact, like the return as monarch of king Carol II in 1930, his deposition in 1940, and the coup d’état which removed Ion Antonescu from power.
The latter event paved the way for the change of sides by Romania in WWII. Maniu often expressed his resentments against Communism, and was perceived by Western governments as a person capable to lead a future democratic Romania.
Another political actor was the National Liberal Party (NLP), the oldest political party of modern Romania and founded in 1875. This party was dominated by wealthy aristocrats and entrepreneurs, and had a concervative lean.
- For making its victory easier, the Groza government introduced a new electoral law, designed by Communist Minister of Justice, Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu. Its main elements were:
- - The Senate was disestablished and Legislative became a unicameral one, represented by the Assembly of Deputies- Majority bonus got removed and replaced by representation proportional only with expressed votes.- All the citizens over 19 years old received the right to vote, including women and soldiers.- Compulsory registration was introduced.- “Non-Democratic” attitudes were purged.
- The Government postponed elections as much as possible in order to gain control over society. But several measures produced a boomerang-effect. The most important ones of this kind are the following:
- - The presence of the Red Army gave strong support to the Government. But it generated more fear than sympathy.- Measures taken for paying the War reparations were also unpopular. This could not be changed by propaganda.- The return of Northern Transylvania following the installation of the Groza government was meant to be a gesture of Stalin to increase the popularity of the new government. But it also had the side effect that it contributed to a rise of chauvinistic anti-Hungarian Nationalism.- Groza wanted to held the elections during autumn when the granaries are full and the winter has not come yet (general tactics during the interwar period too). But in 1946,both drought and famine hit the country.
Finally, the date for elections was fixed for November 19. The campaign was one-sided, because:
- State funds were used to cover expenses of the BDP campaign. Lots of campaign-materials (posters, leaflets, etc.) were printed from public funds.
- Infrastructure of the military was used to spread BDP electoral materials (through use of airplanes).
- State censorship severely censored messages sent by the NPP and NLP to their supporters, and more than often Communist- and Social-Democrat controlled syndicates refused to print their materials. Many newspapers of the opposition parties were banned for several reasons. For example, a newspaper of the NLP got banned because of a series of articles which related to the participation of Romanian Army in the anti-German coalition.
- The state-owned National Radio broadcasted only BDP electoral propaganda.
- Electoral meetings of the opposition parties were disturbed by gangs of the BDP supporters, and leaders of NPP and NLP received threats with death, some of them even being attacked (in the other way was possible also, but with the gain of Communist control over society, less and less).
On November 19, elections were hold. During the process many instances of irregularities were reported, but without any consequence. As official results were announced, voting bulletins were immediately destroyed.
- Officially announced results were the following
|Parties and Alliances||Seats||%|
|Hungarian People’s Union||29||7|
|National Liberal Party||3||0,72|
|Democratic Peasants’Party of Nicolae Lupu||2||0, 48|
|Independant candidates||0 (7 elected, but joined BPD)||0|
The results caused serious turbulence. On the day of vote, NPP, NLP and the Social Democrats led by Titel Petrescu officially protested against election fraud. In a few days, ministers without portfolio, Mihail Romniceanu (NLP) and Emil Hațieganu (NPP) resigned as a sign of protest and Clement Atlee declared that Great Britain did not recognize the results of the elections due to frauds. Petru Groza opened the first session of the new Assembly on December 1.
Speculations came to surface regarding the real outcome of the popular vote. A common myth among anti-Communist historians was, and still is, that the result was obtained by the simple switch of the results of BDP and NPP. This claim, I hold, is exaggerated.
A Romanian Historian, Petre Țurlea, discovered a confidential report in the military archives, which says that the BPD actually received between 44,98 percent and 47 percent of the votes. This estimation can be closer to reality, but we cannot know how reliable its sources are. We will never know the exact, demonstrable truth.
As a result, the Groza government received legitimacy (by illegitimate ways) which assured it the power to transform the legislation of Romania and Romanian society. The transformation process ended with the Summer of 1948 when the last nationalizations were made. But this is already the subject of another article.
- Deletant, Dennis, Communist Terror in Romania: Gheorghiu-Dej and the Police State, 1948-1965. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999
- Deletant, Dennis, Romania Under Communist Rule. București, Editura Fundației Academia, 2006
- Giurescu, Dinu C., Fakers: the 1946 elections. Indiana University Press: Eastern European Monographs, 2010
- Hitchins, Keith, Rumania 1866-1947. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994
- Lowe,Keith, Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. St. Martin’s Press, 2012