The Postcommunist Disavowal

In Romania, we cannot talk about the Communist past without what I call the sado-masochistic aesthetic of anti-communism: wallowing in the trauma of the 80’s, and defining ourselves by it. Except for this trauma representing everything negative, the entire historical political experience of Communism, of the previous generation, is thrown away as irrelevant, nostalgic and a step backward in current discourse. But what about the countless traumas since? Should we privilege the trauma of the 80’s over the traumas of transition, of poverty, social collapse, divided families? And whose trauma are we talking about, exactly? Does everyone get to speak of their trauma equally, or some become benevolent word-bearers?

It is clear to me the Communist legacy has to be subjected to a thorough historical analysis, not to be treated as a monolithic block. The Communist period has to be seen as a whole – both good and bad. We must continue such a project, and I am truly happy that both in the activist and the academic world this is indeed already well underway by a new generation of scholars willing to subject it to a thorough materialist analysis. Similar projects are being engendered for the former Yugoslavia and Soviet space. Already in this movement of young researchers we can see a distancing from the highly ideological first generation of commenters on Communism (for in no way can they be seen as serious researchers, but more like shills for the postcommunist regimes and for the instauration of US hegemony).


Stray cats living among the apartment blocks being fed by the community is one Communist legacy few people even think about as such. But without the blocks and the new communities constituted among them, this collective ecosystem, including the cats, could not have emerged. Tellingly, the changes in the urban landscape have taken their toll on these networks and communities – now, with green spaces being converted to parking lots and tenants taking the place of families, the communities have collapsed

But another problematic trend is arising, namely a wholesale conflation of the struggle of the working people during the early 20th century, the state socialisms of the second half of the 20th century, and current struggles and movements [1]. This reactionary left is idealist in orientation and is in fact animated by a kind of nostalgia for the state socialist past – but the historical moment of this form of Communism is gone, as material conditions for its constitution are no longer present. It is understandable that in this neoliberal age, when us leftists are political pariahs of society, one is inclined to yearn for a time and space when the struggle of the workers was backed by warships, bombers and tanks. But it is, I feel, important to shed the attachment to the state socialist countries of the past. Did they truly partake of that struggle? Were their geopolitical games truly fought for the liberation of working people? Have they not ultimately imprisoned the worker in just as tight an iron cage as the most rapacious neoliberal corporation?

“Anti-communist” criticism must come not only from the right – we must have a powerful criticism of actually existing socialism in Romania from the left also. We can start by critiquing its fetishism of the state, its adoption of the Soviet model without adapting it to prevailing material conditions, its imposition as a colonial regime from the Soviet core, its authoritarianism, its brutal anti-LGBTQ repression, its refusal to base economic policy on material reality. Moreover we can add to the Ceausescu regime the criticism of a revived chauvinistic nationalism, social conservatism, misogynistic natalism, its descent into Legionnaireism and the Securist State, and para-neoloberalism (the obsession with a balanced budget, the obsession with “rentability” of state enterprises, which is akin to profitability) and so on and so forth. It is obvious to me that it was not Communism that ultimately brought down the regime – it was austerity.

Still, we must balance this criticism with a well-tempered praise and emulation. We must admire the regime’s ideals – of transitioning Romania from the Middle Ages to the Space Age in a space of decades – but more so its material achievements: its modernisation of agriculture, its development of infrastructure, its immense geoengineering projects, its construction of housing for the workers, its investment into education and healthcare; its encouragement of leisure, sports and outdoor activities among working people; its commitment of involving the masses in the life of the polis; and many, many more. Engaging with the Communist past must not become an exercise in nostalgia, but rather an opportunity to learn alternatives to the current wasteful and dehumanising system.


  1. Rockhill, Gabriel (2022), CIA și anticomunismul Școlii de la Frankfurt (The CIA and the Frankfurt School’s anti-communism), Baricada,