The Romanian Bourgeoisie, 1925

excerpts II. The social development of Romania from 1866 up to these days The age of Romanian mercantilism8. As experience shows us, a bourgeois society that starts developing later than others desires to begin with that phase at which these other societies already are. The general pattern of the development of the bourgeoisie is roughly the same everywhere: a progress from commerce to industry, from the capitalist circulation of goods to their production. However, within this pattern, those societies that experience development later, try to skip intermediate stages and to reduce to decades the path that other countries have covered in centuries. As we have shown, typical examples of this type of development, on a huge scale, are the United States and Germany: the bourgeoisie of these countries that developed late did not pass from mercantilism from liberalism any more as the old English and French bourgeoisie had done, but went straightly into the present state of capitalist societies: imperialism. Romania and Japan are also good examples of societies that took a shortcut without, however, upsetting the general pattern of evolution of the bourgeoisie. When Romanian revolutionaries transplanted the European institutions in our country they were met with skepticism and derision: it seemed to be a break from the past, a violent break in the continuity of our evolution. It is worth noting, however, that the conservative reaction only criticized the cultural and political aspects of the process, that is those concerning the higher strata of social life, and said nothing of the economic revolution that also represented a break in the continuity but which seemed to be noticed by nobody. When, for instance, Romania inaugurated the first railway from Bucharest to Giurgiu, it did not use the first type of locomotive with which the Germans had inaugurated their first railway from Nürnberg to Fürth, but imported modern, up to date machines. When our banks were founded, we did not use the system of Italian medieval cities or of the English jewelers, but we adopted the present system right from the beginning. When we set the foundations of a national industry, we did not start with the English mill, but with the modern factory. Nobody protested against this economic discontinuity, nobody was revolted, everything was accepted as the most natural process; it was only in the field of culture and of politics that what looked natural in economy was interpreted as some sort of abnormality. That the modernization of our national economy necessarily triggered the modernization of public, cultural and political institutions, that it would have been impossible for us to effectively be associated with the bourgeoisie of Western Europe if we had preserved the archaic shell of our social life are aspects that those who criticized the Romanian bourgeoisie seem to have ignored. It is true that the rapid adapting of Romania to Western European civilization created disharmony between our newly imported institutions and the archaic, rural mentality of our people. However, even in the countries where the bourgeoisie had had a longer tradition and had evolved over a period of several centuries, social institutions changed quicker than the soul of the people; the latter must be forced by violence to make an effort and psychologically rise to a level where it can meet the requirements of the time. The conservative reaction in Romania ignored this truth because of its cultural axiom which stated that the institutions created by various nations were the expression of their respective souls, and this axiom seemed so certain to these people that none of them even bothered to submit it to criticism and compare it to the reality of facts. In fact, our exotic, newly imported institutions, far from collapsing because of the lack of an indigenous foundation, as these people prophesized, extended their natural basis instead, which was represented by our bourgeois economy, and influenced the soul of our nation to an increasing extent, harmonizing it with our social institutions. This process is not over yet, as the stage of the creation of our national bourgeoisie is not yet completed. Though the adapting of our institutions to those of Western Europe was a historical necessity, it is equally true that the strategies used to this purpose were not those that historical experience suggested. The study of the development of the bourgeoisie shows us that a nation that lags behind in terms of economic development resorts directly to the experience of more developed countries in order to create its own institutions. Thus, the economy of England – a country much behind Flanders or France – was entirely the creation of foreigners who brought in both the capital and the necessary skills. The Flemish and Huguenot immigration played a decisive role in the development of English economy.[1] In our own times, Russia and especially Japan resorted to the experience of foreigners in order to create their modern economic and cultural institutions. In our country, when the proposal was made in Parliament to borrow money from abroad in order to create a national railway system using our own means, prime minister I. C. Brătianu wisely answered that we did not have the technological means for that which were available to other nations. A too big intellectual effort was not however needed in order to understand that we were equally unprepared to create a national army, a national system of education or a national industry, all these on the modern patterns introduced by the bourgeoisie in Western Europe. The result was that when one of these institutions of our bourgeoisie, militarism, was put to test and was required to face a similar institution of a more advanced European bourgeoisie, the weakness of our institution was revealed in such a tragic way that only then did we resort to the "technological means" of the old bourgeoisie in order to raise our militarism to the standards of present-day military art. Anybody can realize that it would have been better if we had learned from history and done that from the very beginning. When we analyze the development of social classes we will try to bring to the fore the deep causes of this situation that contradicts our experience regarding the evolution of the bourgeoisie in countries with a belated economic development. 9. The quick and energetic transition of Romania from the old to the new regime is one of the most interesting social experiences. Actually, there can be no better proof of the vitality of the Romanian people than the fact that they did not succumb as a result of these deep, stunningly fast changes. Weaker nations fall prey to disintegration and decadence as a result of the invasion of capitalism; the Turks are the most tragic example in this respect. Capitalism dissolved the old forms of their national life without their being able to assimilate the new social patterns introduced by the bourgeoisie in Western Europe. Our people, however, passed this test in a brilliant manner: they proved they were capable of assimilating the institutions of the modern bourgeoisie. In order to achieve this, our revolutionaries needed a level of confidence that astonishes the detached researchers of our days. Only the taste for adventure that Sombart identified everywhere as a fundamental factor in the birth and development of the bourgeoisie, and that was definitely present in the beginnings of our own national bourgeoisie can explain such a daring achievement. V. The reaction against the Romanian bourgeoisie  An outlook on Romanian culture from the perspective of social psychology4. With the creation of Junimea[2] in the 1860s, the reaction against the Romanian bourgeoisie pervaded the social and cultural life of the country. The members of the group were men educated abroad. They did not know and didn't seem interested in, or enthusiastic about, knowing their own country. As they were not directly acquainted with the social life of our country, they tried to get to know and understand it in a deductive way, namely by drawing conclusions about it from the scraps of knowledge and abstract formulas they had acquired in Germany. That is why these people were aliens in their own country for the entire span of their lives. Entrapped in their abstract world, these people ignored their motherland, which didn't seem to correspond to the world of chimeras they lived in. It is true that the members of Junimea too spoke about the need for studying the past in order to understand the present, and it was natural for them to do so: didn't German idealism say the same thing? With the former, however, this remained an empty statement. This is where nationalism comes in as a natural and necessary complement of the philosophy of Junimea: political reaction loses its exotic character and firmly places itself on the ground of national history making efforts to guide the present starting from the study of the past. Nationalism, understood as an attitude towards social evolution, represents the first serious attempt to direct Romanian culture on the basis of modern evolutionary historicism. While, however, the new trend accomplishes a great, positive work, it fails to get rid of all the shortcomings of the previous one, and even continues that system. A result of the thought of the younger members of the Junimea group, who could not forgive their elders for their lack of interest in the history of their own people[3], nationalism preserves a definitely reactionary character: the study of the past changes into the idealization of the past and the minimization of the present. In other words, nationalism does not consider (as scientific evolutionism does) the knowledge of the past to be a means of understanding the past, but a means of defaming the past that it cannot forgive for having dissolved the old forms of national life. Nationalism is, therefore, emotional, not objective: it expresses the nostalgia, the longing for the past, not the vigorous aspiration for the future.[4] The representative spirit that brought the nationalist ideals to perfection was the poet Mihail Eminescu. A member of the Junimea group, but one having his own, original ideas, different from those of his mentors, he is a representative of nationalism in all its characteristic manifestations: historical, Romantic, pessimistic, sentimental, patriotic, religious, xenophobic. All these features make up, as one can easily see, a spiritual and emotional whole: a melancholy mood, one of longing for a distant, pure past that was for ever destroyed by the new political system. The hatred of foreigners is particularly obvious: they were, according to the philosophy of Junimea, political adventurers who had created the new social system; as aliens in a country that was not theirs, they had not understood the genius of our people, and consequently had destroyed its old institutions and had scorned its ancient traditions and customs.[5] The later representatives of nationalism were brilliant personalities who managed by the force of their rhetoric and by the warmth of their souls to turn this philosophy into a powerful, influential trend of thought. However, as far as we can find our way in a field where the representative texts are so fragmentary, none of these people contributed new ideas to the old nationalist thought.[6] It would have been impossible, actually, since by its nature the reaction against the bourgeoisie, wherever it might take place, cannot include but a limited number of features, and in our culture Eminescu exhaustively covered the subject. There was a serious gap in new trend that had to be filled in: all these elements had to be collected in a system of thought based on general principles. This was what Mr. Constantin Rădulescu-Motru did, the only philosopher with a system of thought that was produced by the Romanian reaction. Whoever is interested in nationalism as a whole is bound to refer to his work.[7] In his detailed research this philosopher tries to prove: a) that our old institutions were in harmony with the soul of our people; b) that there is an utter contradiction between the Romanian soul and the new bourgeois institutions: our soul has preserved its rural features in spite of its new bourgeois attire; c) consequently, our modern institutions are far from being deeply rooted, being just a "change in the setting", a case of "social mimeticism". (...) To prove his point, the author uses the old refrain, again and again: the people who accomplished this change of setting are alien politicians who only pursued their own interests against those of the nation. Undoubtedly, Mr. Motru's study represents a deep psychological analysis and his research on the disharmony between the rural spirit of our nation and our bourgeois institutions is certainly fundamental. However, it is obvious that his education, mainly its psychological aspects, could not help him correctly interpret this social reality from a historical perspective. For this he should have been better acquainted with the evolution of modern capitalism. If he had been so, he would have certainly seen that at the beginning of the development of a bourgeois society, the rural spirit lagged behind the times everywhere in the world, and that the governments of the countries where this happened had to force this soul into harmony with the new needs. Nowhere did the bourgeois institutions appear as the result of the spiritual needs of the various nations; they resulted rather from the needs of capitalism. This process of harmonization was long and painful and was accomplished gradually; it was even more painful with us, since the late and rapid evolution of capitalism in our country created even more dramatic discrepancies between the new society and the spiritual evolution of the nation. 5. Unlike the old reaction of Junimea, which placed itself above national differences, the new reaction that took the form of nationalism was xenophobic and anti-Semitic. So marked did this orientation become within the new trend that sometimes it seemed to represent the basic feature of nationalism, while the latter actually originated in other needs, of a social nature. The hatred of foreigners is a general phenomenon accompanying the early history of the development of the bourgeoisie in every country.[8] Even in England, the country where liberalism originated, whose national religion could be considered a sort of Judaism, the Jews were once treated as those in Spain.[9] It should be said however that the English later changed their attitude and feelings towards foreigners radically and this spared them the ignominy of sharing the fate of our Latin sister across the Pyrenees. This hatred of rural countries against the foreigners is after all perfectly natural. Everywhere the strangers are those who lay the foundations of the bourgeoisie and consequently those of a democratic culture and constitution.[10] The foreigner who arrives in a rural, backward country from an industrial, developed country brings with him a formidable force of destruction: capitalism. As soon as it gets this ferment, the rural country enters a stage of dissolution. And then the anger of all these people who find themselves displaced from their original social position is directed at the foreigners that are responsible for this disaster. Weren't the Jews in this country, too, accused of having destroyed our country? Nationalism, however, had the inspiration of extending this hatred to the new ruling classes, arguing that they too were alien to our nation and they destroyed its traditions as they cannot understand them. The reason for this strong dislike for the new rulers is in fact different: the nationalists consider the present social order from the perspective of the old rural spirit. It is known that if the aristocrats in the past were Romanian they would treat their serfs better than a foreign lord. Similarly, it is widely believed today that if our oligarchy were ethnically pure and had the same Romanian blood in their veins as the peasants in the countryside, they would behave more mercifully and would be more compassionate as regards the needs and suffering of the impoverished population. As its members are foreigners, however, they have no spiritual connection with the masses and their government is against the people and their needs and nature. Need we show how deep and gross the misunderstanding this illusion is based on is? The new ruling class in our country is no longer formed of landlords but of handlers of capital. And capitalism has no nationality or soul, it favors nobody in particular; it is an objective, impersonal social force that does not depend in any way of the nationality of the leaders. Bourgeois societies are not founded on individuals, but on superior blind forces that enslave individuals. Hence, national differences no longer play the role they used to play in the old agrarian society. We should also add that the nationalism characterizing political reaction must be distinguished from the nationalism of the bourgeoisie, which has a much older origin. There are, indeed, two types of nationalist ideologies: one that results from the needs of capitalism and another one that results from the needs of reactionary political forces that fight capitalism. The nationalism of the bourgeoisie always materialized in a national ideal as the bourgeoisie militated for a modern, united and independent state, defined ethnically and having an autonomous existence; the nationalism promoted by political reaction required that this state should not borrow its institutions from abroad, but that it should derive them from the soul of the people and the respect for the past. Two opposite conceptions are contrasted here: the nationalism of the bourgeoisie was imposed by capitalism as a type of national ideal and as it materialized it changed into a source of military conflicts and wars, while the nationalism promoted by political reaction is just the philosophy of a small group of intellectuals who seem to believe that this is the only form of what can be understood as nationalism. 6. As the members of the Junimea society did, nationalism denies any social role to our new ruling class, which is blamed for having impiously wiped out the pure traditions and the past of our nation. That is why any educated Romanian is nowadays persuaded that the social role of our upper classes is only limited to exploiting the resources of our country, and that these classes are guilty of all the imaginable sins in the world without having any quality. By contrast, the old aristocracy is presented in an obviously much more favorable light, its moral, social and national superiority appearing to be unquestionable. We must say from the very beginning that it is difficult to understand how such people, who had no social function, managed to stay in power; it is equally hard to explain how Romania developed so quickly and constantly if we accept the idea that the new ruling classes are characterized exclusively by shortcomings and have no qualities. This theory, so negative and pessimistic, must be then based on some sort of misunderstanding. And we are dealing indeed with some sort of gross misconception. It is obvious that nationalism regards our modern state from the perspective of the old regime and assesses the social role of the bourgeoisie by comparing it to the role the aristocracy had had earlier. However, a modern society differs in character from older ones, and its ruling class has a different social role: to develop an indigenous form of capitalism. In order to understand the historical role of our new ruling class, we must analyze its role in promoting a Romanian form of capitalism meant to help our country emancipate from the domination of foreigners and occupy a glorious place among the modern states. Has the new ruling class accomplished its own historical mission? Those who have followed the arguments presented in our research must conclude that not only has our bourgeoisie accomplished its mission, but it has done so in a brilliant way that will stir the admiration of future generations. A few decades ago Romania was still an oriental country: it had no roads or means of communication, it had no unique national currency, it had no banks and, even worse, it had no people that were capable to attempt a solution to this difficult problem forcibly generated by our relations with foreign capitalism. In the near future Romania will be capable of standing on its own feet and will have a type of vigorous national capitalism capable of satisfying all its needs. Such a remarkable, historic achievement in such a short period of time can be found nowhere else in Europe. It is then clear that in order to understand modern Romania we must stop considering it from the perspective of the old regime, thus ignoring its characteristic problems. The history of the birth of modern Romania is the history of the development of our national capitalism.
[1] H. O. Meredith, Outlines of the Economic History of England, pp. 150, 204.[2] Junimea (the Youth) was a conservative literary and political organization founded in the 1860s that played a major role in the life of the country in the second half of the 19th century (translator's note).[3] G. Panu, a member of the group, writes in his memoirs that the public conferences of 1874 represented "a triumph of the new Junimea members over the older ones, the victory of national ideas against the old ones of humanist culture. We, the Romanians, had finally managed to introduce a new trend, a new course within Junimea." (G. Panu, op. cit., p. 131).[4] "Patriotism is not the love for the motherland, but the love for the past." (Eminescu, Political Writings, p. 115) "Any genuine civilization can only represent a partial return to the past, to the good, healthy, characteristic elements in the development of a nation." (Eminescu, op. cit., p. 49). That is why the poet militates for a revival the past, for the reintroduction in our institutions of the elements of the civilization of the ancient Dacians in the spirit of our glorious national past.[5] See mainly the famous article The Upper Classes, whose end reads: "The genius of our nation is a book with seven seals for the present dominant generation" (Eminescu, op. cit., p. 139).[6] Mr. Simion Mehedinţi and Mr. Constantin Rădulescu-Motru among others directly refer to Eminescu.[7] Romanian Culture and Political Life, Bucharest, 1904.[8] "With all nations the first merchants were foreigners. With backward nations, however, the foreigner is considered to be an enemy." L. Brentano, Die Anfänge des modernen Kapitalismus, p. 15.[9] In England, as everywhere, the first capitalists were the Jews (Gibbins, The Industrial History of England, p. 35). Chased at first because of popular hatred, they were repressed under Cromwell's rule when the first attempt at naturalizing them was made (Sombart, Die Juden, etc., p. 138).[10] Sombart, Der moderne Kapitalismus, p. 821.

by Ştefan Zeletin (1882-1934)