Romania: Crushing victory for the USL in the December 2012 parliamentary elections

Austerity rejected, but a new pro-capitalist government formed

After the parliamentary elections held on 9 December 2012, the "Social Liberal Union” (USL), the unholy alliance between the center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) and center-right National Liberal Party (PNL), won obtaining a crushing 58.63% of the vote for House of Deputies, and an even more astonishing 60.1% in the Senate.

Most of the alliance’s candidates were members of the PSD, but because of the vague and unclear orientation of the coalition, most of their campaign was centered around criticizing Băsescu’s and the PDL’s policies, without promoting any left alternative. The European mainstream press and many Romanian intellectuals label this victory as nothing but a populist expression of the common anti-Băsescu stance of the people, and although there seems to be a fair share of truth to their claims at first-sight, there is a bigger dimension to these results than meets the eye. Yes, it is true that the USL is mostly an ideologically empty alliance, initially intentioned to topple Băsescu’s regime and to concentrate power in its own hands, not to alleviate the economic situation of Romania’s working class. This was proven during its repeated attempts to stop last year’s ’winter protests’ or to divert them towards demanding nothing more than preliminary elections, (find more about it on this article: ). However, their victory in the elections doesn’t mean that the Romanian people do not want a real political alternative, and are simply "carried away" by the anti-Băsescu impulse of 2012.

A victory for the left, or for capitalism?

All who draw such a conclusion simply ignore the recent chain of events. The USL’s campaign used every possible way to attack Băsescu’s regime. These varied from the financial crisis, the public budget cuts and the economic stagnation of the country, (GDP registered 0.2% growth in the last trimester of 2012, but the overall yearly performance inclined the balance towards recession) to the right-wing reforms he put forward, including the privatization of health care which ignited last year’s wave of protests. Despite the fact that they did this without offering any clear alternative to this assault on the working class, their election cannot be solely interpreted as personalised opposition to Băsescu! All of the politicies which the USL focused on criticising were right-wing and conservative assaults on the standards of living of the working class. The rhetoric they emphasised the most to attract support during the election was focused around the idea of restoring 4% of the 15% cut from pensions, and the reversal of other wage and pension cuts further by the end of 2013 in several small increments. They also engaged in light criticism of Angela Merkel’s austerity policies. The USL, although ideologically non-existent as a political entity, adopted a leftist critique of the previous regime in order to win the elections, so it is clear that the people voted against oppressive neo-liberal politics, not only against Băsescu. The USL adopted a pseudo-leftist position in order to pose as a liberating force and gather political support, but their real agenda is far from aiming to improve the lives of the working people.

The PDL has cut 25% from wages and 15% from pensions during the current world capitalist crisis, and the only reversal the USL has managed to make up to this point was returning 4% of the pensions, which were illegally taken as contributions to health insurance (CASS). They now promise that further budget increases for employees and pensioners will now come only if they are again reelected! In reality, the USL was already in power since May 2012, seizing it after the dismissal of the last PDL government led by Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu. The above mentioned increase in pensions was ratified just before the December elections, and actually represents a decrease if we consider the 4.95% inflation rate for 2012! The main argument of the USL is that the state does not have control over the "supply and demand" forces in a market economy and that they are not responsible for the growth in prices. However, the political instability caused by last year’s electoral fraud and the unconstitutional proceedings they pushed for during the presidential impeachment referendum, scared away many investors and severely augmented the inflation rate. Thus the USL was partially responsible for the higher prices, and, like the PDL, it has not provide any improvement in the quality of life of the Romanian working class and elderly. The USL orchestrated a successful manipulative campaign by using the political tools it possessed. They offered a fictional income increase, and also blackmailed the population to vote for them with the promise of further income increases, which, at the current 1.34% inflation rate for January 2013 alone, will most likely be just as futile.

The people voted against austerity, against capitalist robbery of the working class and against the dictatorship of the IMF, the Central European Bank and the World Bank. But in absence of a genuinely socialist force which would reverse all the cuts and increase public spending, nationalizing the big corporations and the banks which robbed the Romanian middle and working class, the USL, and mainly the PSD, hijacked this strong anti-capitalist mood to serve its own opportunistic political goals. Ponta (the leader of the PDL and the Romanian Prime Minister since May 2012) criticised the PDL for cutting public spending, but did is not willing to reverse the cuts himself. Ponta criticized the health care and education privatization reforms attempted by the PDL government, but then again, his government was the one which did not pay the thousands of workers at the Oltchim chemical plant in Râmnicu-Vâlcea for more than 2 months and which initiated the privatization of this huge industrial enterprise!

These actions are just a few examples of the dysfunctional character of these "social democrats". Under the capitalist system, in the end power is held by the banks, the financial institutions and the big corporations, and ultimately not by governments. Unlike a 100 year’s ago, today "Social democracy" is nothing more than better-disguised form of capitalism which generally makes the robbery of the working and the middle class by the elites less visible than the conservative reactionary politics of the traditional right wing, but it isn’t a solution to free the people from the capitalist crisis, fundamentally a consequence of the bosses’ economic dictatorship and wage slavery!

A democratic socialist alternative

Băsescu’s declaration that he doesn’t want Romania to be in the “grey zone” between Beijing and Washington and that, unlike the USL, he wants the country to “be on a straight line towards euro-atlantic values”, is just another replica of the decades old reactionary rhetoric of labeling enemies of the right as Stalinists, Maoists or other "socialist" totalitarian ideas associated with the oppressive dictatorial regime of the past in Romania. Both the PDL and the USL try to create the same illusion that the people have to choose only between two sides, which are both, in reality, different ways of exercising the dictatorship of the banks and the corporations. They have nothing to do with the “euro-atlantic” values of "democracy" and "freedom", but only use them to justify their abuses and crimes the same way the Stalinists used Marxist values to justify theirs! If many people looked deeper into the President’s analogy they would be surprised to find out that China, in spite of its brutal oppressive dictatorship and increasingly pro-market policies, is the country with the fastest pace of infrastructural development in the world (it built 639,000 km of highway and 74,000 km of high speed railways only between 2006 and 2010), and that because of the fact that the construction sector of the economy is almost entirely centrally planned in China.

The main problem is that such statements are only meant to deceive people into thinking that socialism is synonymous with dictatorship and oppressive policies, and that there can be no “democratic” alternative except for theirs! The CWI stands firmly against such propagandistic lies, and supports a democratic government, controlled by workers’ organisations and directly chosen representatives of the people, which would take control of the banks and big corporation in order to redistribute their profits and the funds stolen from the working class back into wages, unemployment benefits and pensions, and for a genuinely socialist economy which would offer jobs to the unemployed, invest in the health and education systems with the newly-acquired wealth from the super-rich and create big infrastructural and development projects.

The Romanian people expressed their will for a left alternative, but the USL is unable to provide. The inevitable disillusionment with the experience of the USL government and the experience of struggle can lay the basis for the construction of a mass genuinely socialist movement that can lead the people’s struggle for a radical social and economic transformation!

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April 2013