The Interwar Romanian Village, a “Terra Incognita”
In this research I will make an approach, typical to microhistory, to investigate some dissensions manifested in the microhistory of Gusti’s School which, once brought to the surface and analyzed, are clues of some fundamental unsolved issues related not only to the path of sociological school, but also to the social macrohistory of modern Romania.
The dissensions refer to the opposite way in which two personalities of the interwar economy, Mircea Vulcanescu and Nicolae Cornateanu, understood to examine in Gusti’s monographic campaigns the peasant household in its economic “manifestation”. These two different methods have co-existed, which resulted in a relative eclecticism of the monographic research on the economic dimension of Romanian villages. Vulcanescu’s vision comes into contradiction with the way in which D. Gusti and A. Golopentia understood village modernization and research; from a certain point of view, it is rather close to the view of another important member of the School, H.H. Stahl.
The two different methods are backed by two opposing views that are typical for the interwar debate on the Romanian village. The perspective of the specific form of economy characterizing the Romanian village (and any traditional agricultural form of economy), shared by Vulcanescu, influenced by the research of the Russian economist Al. Ceajanov, is in minority in the interwar period, even if in a similar form it is popularized by Virgil Madgearu, the doctrinaire of peasantism. However, even in the writings of those who support peasant household, there is a linear, modernizing perspective that prevails, intending to place the peasant household and village in a restrictive level of state action.
Historically, this plurality of perspectives is also significant for the relationship between the Romanian villages and state. From a social perspective, the dissolution of the “common ownership” village or of the traditional “community”, whether as a result of modernization imposed from above, through the state, or as a result of the spontaneous process of influence of urban centers and capitalist economy, leads to a possible explanation for the disappearance of social capital and willingness for collective action of a large part of the Romanian society.
Epistemologically, the consequences of the said dissensions are relevant including today, through the research on “governing the commons” and the implications on rationalist theories of economics. The research shows that ignoring the economic specificity of the peasant household both in the interwar period and especially nowadays is surprising, given the strong agricultural profile of our country and the existence, until today, of subsistence agricultural households.
The peasant household: capitalist undertaking or family social unit?
Mircea Vulcanescu seemed to continue his spiritual concerns from RCSA [Romanian Christian Students Association] in Gusti’s monographic campaigns. Thus, in the first monographic campaign (1925) of Goicea Mare, he makes a report on the “spiritual life”. In Fundul Moldovei (1928) he deals with the development of Gusti’s “system” and in January 1929, at the Romanian Social Institute, he holds the conference “Spiritual Reality in Monographic Research”. Back from Paris where he had performed prep-doctoral economic studies, he participates in 1929 in the campaign from Dragus where he investigates the “psychological manifestations” together with Paul Sterian, his friend from RCSA.
Next there is the monographic campaign from Runcu (1930) where Vulcanescu researches for the first time the “economic life” of the Romanian village. Cornova (1931) and again, Dragus (1932) are the last monographic campaigns in which he participates and the field researched is still the economic life. However, Vulcanescu’s reorientation to research of the economic aspects of the Romanian village had marked decisively his involvement in Gusti’s School: conferences, studies, reports made on the peasant household, polemics in magazines of the younger generation and the only consistent attempt to capitalize the research experience through theorization in a coherent vision but, unfortunately, too concise on the village economics sociology. Like other writings of Vulcanescu, many of these materials are written as if always running out of time, giving the impression of unfinished notes or revised periodically, like some rough workshop productions or, rather, non-assembled into a final product. This is not surprising: since 1929 he had been working as a referent at the Ministry of Finance, and he had also been a professor at various seminars (economics, statistics, ethics) at the Department of D. Gusti or at Social Work. However, there is one more explanation: the diversity of concerns and the strong involvement in the young generation’s trend, especially that related to the Criterion magazine, which causes a kind of waste of Vulcanescu in multiple directions.
However, the vision behind these fragments of sociological and economic workshop is coherent, consistent and uniform, with identifiable elements including in the sociological materials written in the period prior to the monographs devoted to the “economic life”. This vision concerns the village economy, being based on the peasant household, “a family’s life community” and “consumption unit” operating by logics other than that typical to capitalist undertakings, therefore, it requires a specific research method. In Gusti’s monographic researches, another perspective has been used in addition to this one, competing and contradictory to Vulcanescu’s view.
“The leading agronomist”
A lapidary statement made by Vulcanescu in the conference “Peasant Household and Capitalist Economy” gives a first clue of the method differences existing in the monographic research of the economic life of the Romanian village. Citing the monograph from Cornova, a Bessarabian village of free peasants, Vulcanescu argues, intending to give the example of specialists in agronomy that failed to understand how the village operates economically:
“In this system we understand so little the intimate mechanism of peasant household, just like the agronomist failing to understand how peasants agree to plant unprofitable corn, when they may plant other species, more profitable. This is characteristic and is repeated in other areas. Thus, a leading agronomist, set down in a Bessarabian village which had only 75 plows for 353 households, immediately concluded: backward village. In fact, through a system of exchange, labor and inventory, the 353 households ensured the best use of the 75 plows.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 657).
Nicolae Cornateanu also participated in the Cornova campaign and he was the leading agronomist that Vulcanescu referred to. According to H.H. Stahl, Cornateanu began to participate in monographs from the campaign from Fundul Moldovei (Stahl, 1981),
therefore almost at the same time when Vulcanescu changed his research field for the “economic life”. Described by Stahl as a well-known specialist, one of the major figures involved by Gusti in his projects, Cornateanu was working at the Institute of Agronomic Research, Department of Rural Economy; within these institutions, he coordinated studies on the Romanian agriculture profitability. For him “the most significant problem is the organization and profitability of peasant households.” Profitability was calculated by accounting the revenues, expenses, performance, earnings and production costs from the peasant household; such calculation was made according to “rules set out in international agriculture congresses”. The peasant was seen as an “employee” of his own household; the accounting included the “holding wages, namely the wages to be paid for the work done by the family, counting those who work permanently in the holding, as the holding’s servants” (Cornateanu, 1935: 10).
The research of the Rural Economy Department was carried out by training the selected peasants in keeping complicated accounts; the peasants were periodically checked by inspectors of regional divisions. Of course there was a high dose of mistrust on the accuracy of the data obtained by such method, both because the accounting system was not familiar to the peasant thinking and because there were doubts about their willingness to provide economic information about their household. Therefore the monographic campaigns represented for Cornateanu a special opportunity to exploit his method of measuring the household profitability, because the accounts would be kept, this time, by specially trained people, students or members of Gusti’s team who had to calculate if the household had a surplus or deficit budget, that is, whether the income exceeded expenses or not.
“The personnel from the Rural Economy Department has collaborated with the seminar in the monographic campaigns from Fundul Moldovei, County of Campu Lung Bucovina, Dragus (Fagaras), Runcu (Gorj); Cornova (Soroca).” (Cornateanu, 1935: 4).
The peasant household income was of several types:
“the agricultural income, i.e. the difference between the gross income and expenses of the holding; net income is the interest of the capital invested in the holding. Not the interest to be paid for the capital, but the interest resulting from the production process. The interest to be paid for the capital invested in the holding is the ideal net income and the difference between real net income and ideal net income is called net income difference.” (Cornateanu, 1935: p33).
The “labor income” had to be researched too, beside the net and agricultural income:
“the difference between agricultural income and the interest to be paid for the net capital (net assets) invested in the holding. When the labor income is negative, it is far from providing sufficient profitability” (Cornateanu, 1935: 35)
The application of this method gave surprising results. According to his studies, comparing similar analysis made in other European countries, the peasant household was among those with the highest net income, comparable with those recorded in Denmark, Germany or Switzerland, countries that had an appreciable level of rural development and far from that of Romania, while in the agricultural production we were on the last places; moreover, there was room to boost peasants to intensify their work. Another paradoxical result was that although households were profitable economic units, the same households failed in large part to support themselves from their own production:
“all holdings (studied – A/N) of 1933 – 1934 give positive agricultural income. Not all holdings give budgetary surplus, in other words the agricultural income can not cover and ensure the peasant family’s existence in all holdings. Thus, out of 159 holdings studied, 63 are deficient, which means a rate of 33%.” (Cornateanu, 1935: 106).
In fact, the same accounting method was used by Cornateanu to measure, on the one hand, the holding profitability in purely economic or technical terms (i.e., the net income issue) and, on the other hand, its social viability: if the household manages to survive from its production. It is what the agronomist called the sociological dimension of the research, or its social aspect. Consideration of the social aspect was used as a weighting of the “technical” results that could have led to devastating conclusions for the small peasant property from the interwar, as acknowledged by Cornateanu: for example, the peasant household “profitability” could serve as a pretext for not applying the law of debt conversion, considered by the agronomist to be a problem, not of the small property, but of the great holdings which, according to his calculations, were less profitable than the others!
The “sociological” method of household profitability, applied in monographic research, was defined as follows:
“In order to reach the budgetary surplus or deficit of the peasant family, we must take into account, on the one hand, the agricultural income and the income from related undertakings or side work; on the other hand the food costs (housekeeping) and the family’s private costs. The difference gives us the family surplus or deficit.” (Cornateanu, 1935:105).
The calculation of these family budgets was performed in all the campaigns attended by the agronomist, but they were integrated and nuanced by the broader framework of household economic analysis inspired by Vulcanescu.
In purely technical and economic terms, the agronomist concluded that the small property of about 5 ha was clearly superior to other forms of agricultural holding (especially large property and fragmented property), requiring only a superior, rational organization of the same, consisting mainly in reorienting agricultural crops to other products than grain or encouraging households to raise livestock. Comparing several households of the same level and with the same composition but different gross income, Cornateanu’s conclusion is harsh: “their differentiation as profitability is a technical issue, the first work rationally, the last work worse.”
Such a discrepancy between “social” and “economic” was explained by Cornateanu by the minimum “investments” that the peasant made in his own household, by the poor quality of the inventory and buildings (which did not require maintenance costs) and often by undernourishment or, in any case, poor nutrition. The paradox of profitable but starving household, whose only fault is “lack of rationality” and “backwardness”, put in question the accuracy of the method for calculating the household’s economic profitability and, moreover, the legitimacy of the economic perspective used by the agronomist. Thus, all this calculation assumed that the peasant household is an agricultural “holding” similar to a capitalist undertaking. As we have seen, the peasants were equated with employees of their own household and a number of economic categories specific to the market economy are used: capital, rent, wages, interest, profit.
Or, in the field, the household looks completely different. As the research in Cornova show, for example, often not even money, an essential element of modern market economy, played a decisive role in the economic life of households. In drawing up the budgets, the monographic School members had to make approximate equivalence, estimates and assessments in order to monetarize its economic life and the “performance” made by its members, seen as employees. The lack of activities theoretically deemed profitable, such as possession of certain animals, was often the result of a very accurate and rational calculation, adjusted to the household possibilities.
Peasant family economy and the monograph
The discrepancies and after all, the lack of relevant budgets made by Cornateanu’s method in the monographic campaigns is the subject of Vulcanescu’s criticism in the aforementioned conference. Such criticisms even have some polemic radicalism:
“That Romania is a country essentially agricultural and that we are a country of peasants is a truism that all our economic publications multiply over and over again. What this means in terms of economic life forms, nobody knew until 1928; and ever since, about eight people know it”. (Vulcanescu, 2005: 629).
Further, Vulcanescu believes that, in the rural economy issue,
“brilliant agronomists, economists and very exceptional historians passed by, without even suspecting the issue, their eyes were so distorted by what they had learned about the peasant economy in the foreign teachers’ books, regarding the peasant in the same way as any other economic matter in general, endowed with a general typical psychology, pursuing, like any economic man, “maximum utility” with “minimum effort”, abstractly accounting for all his household expenses and being guided in his economic activity by the latest circumstantial information.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 630).
More specifically, the greatest misconception of these specialists, including the “leading agronomist”, was that they saw a capitalist undertaking in the peasant household. The peasant household, far from being a capitalist undertaking is “a life community of a family, namely, of a marriage and its direct descendants, and of the elders of the previous generation.” Thus, the “peasant household is fundamentally constituted on another structure and knows other categories, completely different from those of the capitalist undertaking.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 635). The peasant household is not only structurally different; its economic logic does not know the concept of profit, which is not a goal for the economic activity. The purpose of the peasant family’s economic activity is “to cover the family’s consumption needs” and the required intensity of work is crucial in weighing the utility brought by the means of achieving such goal. The result is that in the “family household, the net income formula has no significance” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 656).
In a more systematic way, we can find elements of this view on how to properly investigate the peasant household in its economic dimension, with the campaign from Runcu (1930), when Vulcanescu makes a report that has been published only posthumously and quite recently. In this document, the goal of the monographic research on the village “economic manifestation” dimension is to “determine the type of economic structure” in a typology whose extremes were the “autarchical village” on the one hand and the “village economically dependent on the general economy” on the other hand. (Vulcanescu, 2005: 609). However, this “morphological” approach was doubled by Cornateanu’s method of calculating the peasant households’ profitability, which caused difficulties for Vulcanescu in coordinating the field teams and data collection practice. Thus, we find that the monographists’ teams intended to collect economic information made cash assessments of all the peasant household’s economic activities in order to subsequently draw up the family budgets. A problematic operation, Vulcanescu notes, because on the one hand, an economy which was largely non-monetary is monetarized and on the other hand, a number of economic information irrelevant for Cornateanu’s method is left aside.
Therefore, the monetary accounting of peasant households led to poor coverage of data collection by the “economic” monographists’ team, which is especially harmful to research as, with regard to such information, peasants were very reluctant to provide real data, hence complex questionnaires were needed in order to verify their authenticity.
Therefore, Vulcanescu will complete the necessary information from the data collected by the biological teams; relevant were the amount of work done by peasants and food consumption. Intensity of work, household production and consumption are considered economic information for which data collection work must be provided, and the choice of these indicators follows precisely the vision influenced by Ceajanov on the economic specificity of peasant households, where the ratio between the peasants’ work and its usefulness is essentially, that is, the extent in which it covers the family’s consumption needs. The budgets drawn up by Cornateanu’s method were not eliminated, but integrated as quantitative elements of the research, in a wider “theoretical research plan”.
The new method is implemented at Cornova, the next stop of Gusti’s monographs. Among the conferences organized by the Romanian Social Institute there is one held by Mircea Vulcanescu, entitled Structure of the Economic Village Life; there are no remaining written sources from this conference, but the operating mode foreseen by Vulcanescu ever since Runcu can be reconstituted from other research reports left behind the Bessarabian village monograph. Thus, in the study “Contributions to Research of a Peasant Household from Cornova Village” conducted by Ion Zamfirescu, in the part called “Economic Aspects”, the working hours provided by the family studied are carefully detailed; there are also recorded the working hours in their household “in their own benefit”, the “side work” (in other households) to supplement their income and the part of this work that can be calculated in money. There is also data for food consumption and for other necessary expenses – housing, light, heating, clothing, hygiene. The family budget estimating the gross income, expenses and deficit is also integrated in the comprehensive case study, however nuanced by the observation that
“cash money played a relatively insignificant role or, in any case, unequal in the history of the household we are dealing with. We can not speak about the “first money” within the meaning of an initial cash fund, used for setting up this household”. (Gusti, 2011: 189).
It is a remark which follows directly from Vulcanescu’s economic view, according to which the peasant household can not be equated to a capitalist business, as the basic elements of such type of economy are lacking: money and initial capital.
The result of the research had to lead the observer to conclusions about the pattern in which the household worked and to capture its moment of development or social change. The extreme ideal types of peasant household, similar to those defined for the village, were the autarchical ones (that managed to support their needs through the work done on their properties), also called patriarchal or “closed”, “natural”, and those approaching the capitalist model of agricultural undertaking. For the said case study, the researcher notes:
“the household studied is at a point of development where the rigid autarchical framework is broken […]. The market category appeared in the household economy, without being supported by a proper mentality, which stops us from believing that this is however the closest precise form of development, which we should say we tend to, taking into account life and its current issues.” (Gusti, 2011: 197).
Another monographic study of Cornova, this time signed by Xenia Costa-Foru (“Monographic Study of Several Types of Representative Families”) contains a subchapter devoted to the “economic life”. Here the purpose of research is more clearly formulated, specifying that there will be tested the hypothesis that the household is closely linked to family and is a social unit different from the economic undertaking. The test method consisted in an inventory of people and goods and obtaining data on the family work; the relationship between such work and the goods obtained formed the “output” or “benefit” that the household obtained from its own work. The family budget also fitted in this research stage of “output” verification, but drawn up based on a method more complex than Cornateanu’s, performing income distribution by expenses and by people. We witness here a complete change of logic of the “budgetary” method, which sought to calculate the household’s profitability: namely, try to obtain a ratio between its alleged income and the necessary expenses; however, something else is intended by the output calculation, namely, as Vulcanescu shows elsewhere, “the perfect balance between its effort (work done – A/N) and the benefit gained from it.”
This working method remains constant, at least when Vulcanescu helped develop the monographic research plans of Gusti’s school, as evidenced by a document from 1940 published in the collective volume Guidance for the Sociological Monographs. Entitled “Plan for Peasant Household Research”, it provides a research based on the same inventory of people and goods, on labor, consumption, and on testing the hypotheses about the nature of the household: to what extent is the household a family social unit or economic undertaking, to what extent does it approach the closed family model or that of the organization separate from family, which are trends of the undergone changes.
It is important to note that Vulcanescu used the family or peasant economic theory as a hypothesis, not as a thesis steeply applied to reality, like a procustian bed that retains only what fits the theory and leaves the rest out of the sociological inquiry and research findings. The notes of his researches and reports, and of those investigating the “economic life” of villages under his coordination, are descriptive findings of the peasant activities or mentality confirming the hypothesis. We can see the effort to attempt a description within the researched subject, in order to capture that something, which otherwise remains hidden to the external observer – especially when the latter belongs to a different social world, self-perceived as “advanced”, “civilized”. The agronomist Cornateanu acted completely different, applying his budgets regardless of the context of the research topic and its internal structure, uninterested in how peasants were thinking, but rather seeking to make them use the same accounting system as his own.
In conclusion, the village economy was understood by detailed research of the peasant household, a social unit identifiable with the family, characterized by a particular social and economical structure and functioning in its own economic, non-capitalist logic; the household was also integrated into a complex of collective relations and actions which formed the village community. The Romanian village knew this structure in different degrees, depending on the type of available resources (agricultural land, forests, water) and, especially, on the extent to which it was influenced by the market economy. The research effort involved a complex data collection method that would make it possible to “photograph” the moment of social change of the household/village. This was not easy to do. Therefore, a dynamic sociological approach without being, at the same time, positivist or evolutionary.
After having identified a conflict between the personalities involved in the monographic campaigns in terms of the best research method of the economic dimension of the Romanian village, we will move to a “higher level” in this part of the paper: the interwar context of the debate about the agricultural nature of the Greater Romania and the special place held here by Mircea Vulcanescu and Gusti’s School.
The main source of Mircea Vulcanescu for the peasant household approach was the Russian economist Alexander Ceajanov. His research comes from a “return to peasants” movement, very representative for the Eastern countries, facing the problem of a vast
majority of the population living in rural areas, perceived as marked by backwardness and poverty. Beyond the literary aspects – very present in our country too – in Russia, long before Gusti’s monographic campaigns, the “return to peasants” took the shape of multiple and exhaustive researches of zemstvos, of peasant settlements established after the release from serfdom. Economists, sociologists, statisticians, agricultural experts were heavily involved in the clearing of a terra incognito that the village used to be by then. Following such research, no less than 4,000 volumes of data and information were supposedly gathered. As for the economic research, Ceajanov led the processing of such data to the level of a complex economic theory with multiple implications: both in relation to the peasant household and village analysis method and in relation to the macro-economic systems.
Regarding the peasant household research method, Ceajanov found that the classical Ricardian scheme based on wages, rent, profit and interest can not be applied to the household’s economic activity because wages are missing and the work of its members can not be equated to benefits similar to wages. The Russian economist draws the conclusion that we are dealing with a fundamentally different economic structure in which there are no concepts and practice of profit, wages and income, but a balance between work intensity and meeting the family needs. This balance was actually “a subjective evaluation based on experience in agriculture of today’s agricultural generation and of the previous ones”. That is the micro-economic household theory that we saw implemented and tested by Vulcanescu in Gusti’s monographic research as well.
Structurally different from the capitalist economy, with its own economic categories, the peasant household makes Ceajanov reconsider critically the Marxist theory of social change. The class differentiation likely to occur in rural areas is not essential, says the Russian economist, but the differentiation caused by the demographic process. The population growth leads to reconfiguration of small peasant holdings, which are in constant change as the needs of the household, always contextually different and determined by a number of factors related to the actual circumstances in which they are (in monographic research such factors were given, for example, by the type of crop allowed on the agricultural land, the proximity or distance from a city center).
Based on these observations, Ceajanov also develops a macro-economic theory, criticizing both the theory of classical capitalist economy and that of Marxism. The existence of economic structures different from the capitalist ones makes the Russian economist deny a determined evolutionary course of history – towards capitalism and/or socialism. There are, in stead, typical economic forms that can coexist. Ceajanov counts 4 such forms, some historical, others simultaneous: capitalist, slave, communist and family economy. Family economy, encountered in the peasant household may be of subsistence or market-oriented. According to Ceajanov, it is necessary to know these different types of economic systems, because they are of more help in properly understanding the local realities, than the imposition of a procustian model to peripheral areas
“we must take as unquestionable fact that our present capitalist form of economy represents only one particular instance of economic life and the validity of the scientific discipline of the national economics as we understand it today, based on the capitalist form and meant for its scientific investigation, cannot and should not be extended to other organizational forms of economic life. Such a generalization of modern economic theory, practiced by some contemporary authors, creates fiction and clouds the understanding of the nature of non-capitalist forms and past economic life.” (Chayanov, 1966, 25).
Capitalism and agrarianism in the interwar Romania
Despite the similarity of problems, as the interwar Romania is a country with 80% of the population in the rural areas, Ceajanov’s reception was marginal, which is valid to this day. Moreover, in general, the Russian economist’s reception had no impact in Europe or the U.S.; only in Japan he became manual reading at some point. But we note this poor responsiveness, including in our country, despite the fact that he became, however, known among authors like Virgil Madgearu or Mircea Vulcanescu, as something significant for a certain attitude widely shared by the academic and political elite of modern Romania: namely, the perception of the Romanian village and peasant as backward, poor social and economical forms of existence, which can not form a civilizational alternative but, on the contrary, require actions for modernization, education and civilization carried out mainly through the state.
Backwardness and poverty of peasantry in the interwar period were also connected to a phenomenon that arose perplexities among the elite: despite the fact that Greater Romania experienced one of the most extensive land reforms in Europe, and peasants were granted land that previously belonged to big landowners, agricultural productivity declined drastically, which directly affected the state budget, in a critical period in the which expenditures had increased enormously, in proportion with the new extent of the national territory, with foreign debts and government programs aimed at industry development. Obviously, the explanation for this poor economic performance was also related to peasants’ backwardness and primitivism. In addition, the phenomena of population growth in rural areas, closely linked to small property fragmentation, questioned even the relative stability achieved by the land reform.
Agent of modern Romania development: the bourgeoisie or peasantry?
Liberals dominated the political and economic life in certain continuity with the policies of the era before the war, focusing on national industry development and a domestic banking system. The main doctrinaire of pro-liberal historical theories, Zeletin, believed that this program reflected some objective social and economical changes, initiated in the 19th century with the opening of the Romanian Principalities to international trade (by the Treaty of Adrianople). Through his theories, Zeletin argues with the theory of forms without substance brought by Titu Maiorescu, representative of the prewar conservative movement. Far from being only institutional forms imported by a deliberate and revolutionary political act, the changes and policies pursued by forty-eighters and liberal governments meant, for Zeletin, different stages of a binding course and reflections of specific social structures: from the commercial capitalism of the first opening to the world market, towards the industrial (when, in the late 19th century, the liberals introduce protectionist policies for development of the domestic industry) and the financial capitalism.
These stages of development were considered analogous to the Western capitalism evolution; modern Romania necessarily had to continue “gentrification” and
elimination of the last remnants of “rural traditionalism”. But, unlike classical liberalism (which had its stage in the first period of modern Romania), neoliberalism, in full compliance with the intellectual developments of the time, believed that capitalist modernization was a matter of organization – and yet, state organization. Therefore, the capitalism agent was no longer the individual, but the state itself, called and legitimized as the only authority able, through organization, to lead to progress the latent social and economical development structures. Moreover, Zeletin considers justified the creation of bourgeois oligarchy in the second half of the 19th century, precisely because it organized production and thus, played the historical role of the progressive ruling elite.
We can see a functionalist-positivist view on the state, society and individual, claiming the need for a strong state to regulate the functions that different social groups have to play in a course which is historically deemed binding and progressive. As for neoliberalism, the state is supposed to be the development agent of bourgeoisie, with industry and national capital as main objectives.
Similar in its functionalist mindset, the alternative to this view, coupled with specific policies pursued by the National Liberal Party, was the peasant conception, which provided the same solution – organization of society and economy by the state – but on a social base other than cities and bourgeoisie: peasantry. The “peasant” alternative was regarded as a “third way”, not in terms of a Hegelian synthesis between bourgeois capitalism and proletarian socialism, but as a specific variant of the East European agricultural societies.
Virgil Madgearu challenges Zeletin’s thesis in the same social history terms; he shows that the emergence of capitalism does not lead inexorably to poverty and misery of peasantry. In fact, the contact between the agrarian society and capitalism leads to differentiated results, based on the land ownership regime existing in that society. Peasantry not only does not disappear, but, where allowed, through the regime of small agrarian property and through intensive agriculture, is a special social trend (Madgearu, 1936: 30). Far from becoming an appendage of capitalism, in an agrarian society, peasantry becomes the main reservoir of authentic development of national industry that, due to peasants’ prosperity, will have a sale place in the domestic market. More than that: there is a typical peasant economy, different in its laws from the capitalist one. Here comes in the question the theory of Ceajanov, the Russian economist, which Madgearu uses to complement his land-based evolutionary thesis. Even when coming in contact with the capitalist economy, the market, the economy practiced by peasants remains in the same categories. Thus, the need for cooperatism was founded: as peasants’ organization to access the market by controlling credit and trade routes.
Madgearu goes further with the investigation of the poverty and misery causes. Since structurally, not only that it was not sentenced to extinction, but it was the only way to develop modern Romania, then, the explanation for its condition was in the modernization program of the aristocratic oligarchy. Partly taking over Gherea’s socialist criticism about the neo-serfdom where peasants had been kept, Madgearu reinterprets the great reforms of the 19th century in a deconstructive key. Thus, the modernizing oligarchy was not the bourgeois class, as Zeletin saw it, but nobility, which sought to use the Western legal and institutional frameworks in order to perpetuate its economic and political domination over the peasantry. Indeed, the Treaty of Adrianople opened the Romanian Principalities to the world trade, on which occasion the boyards were able to see how economically efficient was the grain export. So efficient, that all the legal and institutional changes that arose from that time were attempts of this social class to compel peasantry to become cheap labor force for export.
The land reform initiated by A.I. Cuza, for example, was seen as a way in which peasants were pushed to dependence on big landowners; their legal release was fictitious and subsequently canceled by the obligation (imposed manu militari) of ”învoieli” (pacts between boyards and peasantry) (Madgearu, 1936: 88). All subsequent stages of the modernization program of the 19th century are interpreted as measures to promote the interests of a narrow social group, “disguised” as the bourgeoisie: the first laws and institutions on agricultural credit are favorable to big landowners and lessees, not to peasants; the creation of modern infrastructure (communication routes, institutions, post) which also caused excessive external indebtedness, paid by the grain export, thus by harsher living conditions of peasants; protectionism for its own industry, which mainly affected also the wide sections of peasantry; creation of NBR (National Bank of Romania) and other “national” banking structures, under the control of the same group. In short, Romania’s “capitalist” modernization agenda by the ruling elites was denounced by Madgearu as a systematic exploitation program of peasantry in order to perpetuate their own privileged positions and to develop their own businesses.
Contemporary research shows that this criticism has its substance: in its debunking approach on the “booming” interwar economy, Murgescu shows that the village, very important as a producer of grain for the export, has been consistently and systematically disadvantaged because the ruling elites intended to develop cities and industries. (Murgescu, 2010: 272). Vulcanescu also takes over this criticism of the modernization program, thus describing the real objectives of the liberal government: “Liberals do not forget that the essential purpose of political domination is to acquire economic advantages through the state organization” (Vulcanescu, 2009: 245).
Madgearu’s intention was to provide a theoretical foundation for the agrarian development path of the interwar Romania and, specifically, for the alternative that the National Peasants’ Party wanted to crystallize as opposed to that of the National Liberal Party. The studies in which he exposes his ideas and criticism of neoliberalism were presented in public hearings at the Institute of Social Studies led by D. Gusti: the same place where Zeletin used to lecture. Chronologically, he is situated in a turning point for the interwar history: the end of domination of the Liberal Party and beginning of the Peasants’ Party government (1924-1928). Therefore, the impact of such criticism was echoed at the time, as part of a wide current of public opinion, increasingly challenging the liberal government, seen as an abusive and authoritarian dictatorship.
What to do with the peasantry?
We continue this digression in order to better frame the contextual relevance of research that Gusti’s followers bring in the interwar debate on the development of modern Romania and the peasants’ issue. We also had a movement of “return to peasants” or to the village, but at least until Gusti’s campaigns, it had a rather theoretical nature, either literary-historical, or ideological. In fact, such a village appraisal concealed a perfect ignorance of its specificity and, often, a contradictory contempt for peasants, similar to that shared by representatives of the liberal movement, for whom the agricultural nature of the country was a historical impediment.
Symptomatic of this divided attitude of the interwar academic elite is the ignorance of the deep social realities of rural environment which is shown, for example, by a great philosopher, such as Lucian Blaga. Known for his attempts to develop a Romanian philosophy, he launched a famous formula, “eternity was born in the village”, representative for the idealist-romantic genre of village appraisal. However, H.H. Stahl shows in a series of critical articles of the philosopher’s approach, Lucian Blaga believed that the Romanian villages were located just meaningless, and the sizes of houses were built as a simple consequence of the hill-valley subconscious style. However, Stahl shows that, far from being devoid of rationality or built out of obscure subconscious impulses, the Romanian village was “one of the most carefully developed systems of social life”. (Stahl, 1938: 108)
Even more obviously, the ideological defenders of peasants also shared the same contempt and the same view of primitive and uneducated peasant, an irrational being with uncivilized way of life. Thus, the famous professor A.C. Cuza, mentor of the radical movements of the interwar nationalist right wing, after listing the abuses of the “predator system” of peasants, in several critical studies of the modern state, carried out in the late 19th century, also believed that
“a producer with such primitive means as our peasant, who has not learned to spare his strength and to abstain from vices, who does not know his interests and has no foresight, who has not even learned to get dressed and feed better” (Cuza, 1930: 295).
And, although he criticizes the way in which the modern institutional structure was a tax burden on villages, the conclusion of this figure of the Romanian reactionary conservatism is surprising:
“the principle of the current organization is superior in all respects to our former political organization (that is, the modern state of the forty-eight elites compared to institutions of the old regime – A/N) … let’s face that our people did not have the qualities required to be at the height of the principle. In other words, we lacked the culture suitable to such high organizational frameworks. Fundamental mistake: they released peasants (from serfdom – A/N) without giving them the necessary instructions.” (Cuza, 1930: 277).
In fact, Cuza insisted that the peasant must be civilized especially through education and the school was seen as a panacea for all problems that burdened the village – which is an idea of Enlightenment origin par excellence. A perspective partially shared by A. Golopentia, years later.
Nicolae Cornateanu had the same paternalistic-superior vision towards peasants, even if, theoretically, he was also a supporter of small peasant holdings. Thus, what could be more suggestive than a statement like this: “when the small landowner will become a true peasant, as in the West, then of course the disproportion between the big landowner and the small landowner will disappear”. (Cornateanu; 1935: 102). Basically, the same attitude as A.C. Cuza, who believed that peasants were released without being educated enough to play their new role: for Cornateanu, the plowman was ignorant and unorganized, lacking the knowledge necessary for advanced agriculture, which makes the agronomist believe that the land reform was carried out in a hurry. (Cornateanu, 1930: 14). This time, the gaps were not only related to the inadequacy between institutional form and domestic fund, but to the fact that agricultural productivity had dropped after the reform. As a result, Cornateanu demanded that the Romanian peasant should get rid of his own views and “think like a capitalist”. (Cornateanu, 1930: 10).
A state capitalism with agricultural accents, the same author asking the state to limit and interfere with the peasants’ property rights in order to organize agricultural production according to their needs. The model for this kind of legislation was the National Socialist Germany that strictly regulated the peasant property regime, the first obligation of peasants becoming the nation supply. To this end, the law limited succession in order to prevent property fragmentation and discourage rural population growth. Ideally, Cornateanu notes, the number of peasants should be small, matter pursued by the German law and expected to be desirable for Romania as well, where it would have been important to “develop a smaller number of peasant families” (Cornateanu, 1935: 125). A peasantry whose function is to supply the national economy through export and agricultural products raising domestic production, strictly regulated and organized by the state through the Institute of Rural Economy (where our agronomist was working), embracing a new “capitalist” mentality, and applying “real recipes for organizing agricultural holdings” (Cornateanu, 1935: 131), here is the program of the “leading agronomist”.
Another example is found in one of the Peasants’ Party doctrinaires, namely the associate professor from Iasi, G. Zane. Visibly influenced by the most important theoretician of the Romanian agrarianism, Virgil Madgearu, he believes that the state suitable to the social status of the Greater Romania and of the “true” social and economical trends is the peasant state (Zane, 1936: 12). Capitalism, in the author’s view, is about to give way to other forms of economic development, among which the peasant form, in Romania’s case. Just like Cornateanu, Zane advocated a strong state, limiting the property rights (Zane, 1936: 28). The main obstacle to this social and economical trend and to achieving the peasant state was … the peasant himself:
“the sometimes unparalleled millenary poverty and lack of culture of our villages darkened the peasantry’s consciousness, planted in its soul resignation and disbelief. Thus, the political development process of peasantry is fatally delayed”. (Zane, 1936: 41).
Or, as he wishes to clarify right from the start:
“The idea of the peasant state can easily evoke the current poverty and lack of culture of peasantry. Such a state form can be easily imagined as a retrograde form of our society and raise well-founded hostilities against it.” (Zane, 1936: 12)
Therefore, backwardness, poverty, “darkness”, peasants who, just like the proletariat in the Marxist-Leninist ideology, are themselves powerless in fulfilling the “laws” of social evolution and who would require, if not “professional revolutionaries”, then at least an enlightened “elite” to lead them to agricultural progress, through the big state.
If peasantry was seen this way by its ideological supporters, what expectations should we have of its opponents? For Zeletin, the great reform would have led to peasant’s enrichment (!), thus become a kind of brutal and insulting social upstart:
“the war turned him overnight from a semi-serf into a master, without an extended culture which would plant him, as preparation, the master’s spiritual qualities. Therefore, what happened was natural: fear, the external support of the civic quality in inferior nations disappeared from our peasant, but was not replaced with the internal support, given by culture, namely, the consciousness of dignity. Therefore, in the absence of external barriers, the primitive spiritual background of the new master emerges without any restraint”. (Zeletin, 1927: 65)
In his view, this turning point would have led to the disappearance of rural traditionalism from its last redoubt (the social one, i.e. the Romanian village, was already missing due to the emergence of capitalism since the 19th century): urban intellectuality, characterized by a troublesome rural romance. The verdict given by Zeletin in the peasants’ issue is drastic: Romania’s future lies in the development brought by cities and in the form of state-organized and required capitalism, preached by the state and partly experienced in modern Romania. Peasants’ neo-serfdom and impoverishment was inherent and desirable: “compel the peasants to work, in order to learn discipline of the uniform work, provided by everyone in the bourgeois regime.” (apud Madgearu, 1936: 89).
Anton Golopentia, a chief representative of Gusti’s School, provides a much nuanced approach to the Romanian village. However influenced by the prevailing views at the time of the peasants’ return (Nicolae Cornateanu and A.C. Cuza are among the cited sources), Golopentia believes that peasants’ instruction or literacy is a crucial factor in their “modernization”, devoting extensive studies to this research topic. The rural development model, as in D. Gusti and many others, is the Scandinavian or Northern European village, where the ideal of peasantry’s “modernization” or “civilization” is almost fulfilled (Golopentia, 2002: 292). The ideal was to achieve a living standard similar to bourgeoisie, both as living standard and mentality.
Golopentia lists two main tools for achieving such objective: “economic and health instruction and organization of rural life.” Literacy would be assumed that will allow peasants to adopt modern agricultural techniques and thus a more efficient economic activity. However, Golopentia notes that where literacy had reached good percentage of the rural population, the reading analysis showed that reading was rarely practiced and, when practiced, it was directed less to books on agricultural techniques and more to religious and literary books (Golopentia, 2002: 296).
The peculiar view of Golopentia, otherwise a supporter of village modernization and integration into “the pace of the global economy”, is a certain caution towards the dissolution process that the “old” village and traditional culture are going through. He notes that there is a shift from the “traditional stuff”, often despised by the young, without appropriating, however, “the elements of modern civilization regarding economy, health, understanding of the world”, thus resulting a “cultural interregnum”. (Golopentia, 2002: 303). He calls this the danger of “nihilism”, when the traditional landmarks are too suddenly abandoned without being replaced by new ones.
By these observations of an important member of Gusti’s School, the Romanian village, although sentenced, bound to extinction, gains its own social and economical consistency, which has been previously denied or ignored by the ideologists of rurality or small property and very little tackled by a theorist such as Madgearu. In fact, the concern about this intermediate state of transition from patriarchal to the modern stage can be also found in some of his monographic studies, such as that from Cornova, where Golopentia notes that
“the village is ever more completely ripped from its old organizational forms by the modern state, which however could not replace them effectively and is in the midst of a moral, legal, political and administrative anarchy” (Gusti, 2011: 231).
Or, as he shows somewhere else:
“replacing traditional and local forms and attitudes with those shared by the civilization of the European-American cultural circle is an ongoing process that even the most fleeting inspection with clear eyes shows us throughout the South East Europe”. (Gusti; 2011: 245).
Therefore, the modernization process, even if unavoidable, had a discontinuous and non-uniform nature, affecting differently the areas that still belonged to an old agrarian world. Golopentia saw in the cultural action undergone under the guidance of D. Gusti a possible way to avoid “nihilism” in village modernization.
Gusti himself, when he listed the issues that burdened the village, insisted on the social issues that arose from property fragmentation, poor state of hygiene, nutrition and poor literacy of the peasant population. They were real shortcomings of the interwar rural environment and it is remarkable that, although Gusti was involved in a national construction operation in which the village had its role of model exhibit and identity reference role, however he did not make up reality but represented it in its specific data. The problem of property fragmentation and, especially, the social repercussions of this process: peasantry polarization between the “kulak class”, which had large properties, in continuous expansion, and the small producers who often sold their land, insufficient to support their household. At least in this respect, it seems that all Gusti’s followers shared the same common denominator, seeing a risky, even dangerous social process in “becoming a kulak”, likely to lead to proletarization or impoverishment of the small peasantry – thus announcing possible social unrest in a society already burdened by numerous divisions and tensions.
Less interested in a possible special structure of the village and the problems arising from its dissolution, D. Gusti had a complex concept of sustained state intervention in the rural life through cultural teams and then through Social Service – what we would call today soft social engineering (Rostas, 2009). Here we note only the objective stated in the terms of a “moral revolution” which Gusti wanted to awaken in peasants, that is, their “entailment” in a logic of collective action incited and then assisted by the state, through which people mobilize to create a minimal local infrastructure (community centre, communication routes, cooperative) and to have higher life demands in terms of hygiene and nutrition. (Gusti: 1938, 103). It is interesting how Gusti wanted to artificially recreate in practice what we call today the social capital of a community, the ability for communal life. But the professor overlooked that the Romanian village still contained vestiges of a world where collective action was present in a very sophisticated manner, impossible to re-edit through external social modeling measures.
Through its members cited in this paper, Gusti’s School added social data and sound research analysis to the interwar debate on the Romanian village. Through descriptive findings, even for those convinced that the old village disappears, both as a special social and economical structure and as a cultural world, the blaming and patronizing tone towards the peasant that is striking to be found at many interwar intellectuals and politicians, is replaced by the much shorter speech of the social science researcher. Of course, however, there is maintained that superiority typical for those who believe having deciphered the mechanisms of social structures and, foreseeing their trends, believe that rational-institutional solutions may be applied, based on a general national interest. There have also been exceptions to this attitude.
Peasant village: a distinct social world
“The Romanian village is a world in itself,” wrote Vulcanescu in 1929 in a text for Realitatea Ilustrată (Vulcanescu, 2005: 508). A world characterized by a high degree of self-organization by its own rules experienced in time and passed on. That is, by the community phenomenon, the favorite research topic of another prominent member of Gusti’s School: H.H. Stahl, who also considers that the village was a “terra incognita” by the way in which its problems were discussed and the main rural reforms were performed. Essential, says Stahl, is
“the central image of a free-standing social being, that of the village community, foundation of our entire social structure, to which the boyards, free peasants and serfs are equally bound, by a social mechanism dominated by the laws of being of the community.” (Stahl, 1946: 22).
Stahl does the same exercise of criticism of the forty-eighter and liberal type modernization as Madgearu, saying that Cuza’s reform from 1864 brought anarchy in the Romanian village. The same effect is also assigned to the interwar land reform. Therefore, tackling one of the main problems of the peasants’ issue – peasant property fragmentation after the great interwar land reform – Stahl points out to the same major error of governors: in the appropriation process, the former ownership, specific to the village with common ownership, was not taken into account:
“our appropriation village is not a private property village, but a village with common ownership, starting from the agricultural pastoral social structure towards an organization on several strip grounds, however interrupted and anarchized through haste and lack of skills, to put it mildly, by those who carried out the land allotments.” (Stahl, 1946: 284-285).
Basically, both the intellectual and the ruling elite referred to the village as to an unshapely mass, lacking substance, which must be given a “human”, “civilized” face. However, the reality on the ground is completely different:
“our rural stratum did not live apart from certain types of society, was not built from individuals’ dust, each living in isolation, based on certain principles of law … but it was placed in certain forms of social life. Therefore our attention must leave previous concerns and set on these organic assemblies existing in our country …” (Stahl, 1946: 30).
In this context, taking over Ceajanov’s theories in the interwar academic debate becomes relevant not only to combat Zeletin’s neoliberal theories, as does Virgil Madgearu, or to highlight a kind of “third way” between capitalism and socialism, but to contrast two approaches of the Romanian village: a paternalistic-modernizing way, indifferent to the social and rural economic structure, marked by an evolutionary view on history and functionalist-positivist towards the state, individual and society, and one that may be called realistic-domestic, that sees in the village a social world that contains both a special structure and a “world” with its own meanings. That is the difference between the reading made by Vulcanescu to the Russian economist, compared to that of Madgearu. As we have seen, the last shared the vision of historical evolution, even if unique, specific to agricultural countries, but understood through various successive phases of social development. Vulcanescu, however, is much closer to the original theses of Ceajanov, who denied the evolving nature of the economic systems, focusing on their coexistence:
“therefore, there is no unilinear and fatal evolution of the social life […] pushing all countries in the same formation paths, guiding them through the same stages to the same ultimate life form. The social life contains only a divergent plurality of forms arising from all the living conditions of each existing society […]. (Vulcanescu, 2005: 692)”
Furthermore, the existence of a personal economic structure and a mentality specific to peasant households (details are shown above) gives other meanings to the whole discussion about overpopulation, low agricultural productivity and other shortcomings of the village. Unlike those who envisaged, as the sole explanations for these problems, either the lack of education or the lack of “true peasant” mentality (as in the Nordic countries) or the lack of new technologies, Vulcanescu shows that an important role is also played by the “householder’s special way of assessing the economic advantage” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 790) and the “arrangements” used by the village community to organize the communal tradition and work. Regarding the reduced productivity, another illustrative example of superficial judgment shot down by Vulcanescu is a journalist’s criticism of peasant agriculture because in some county the wheat crop lands had declined by 10 times. In fact, Vulcanescu explains, peasants had replaced the wheat crop with other crops (barley, corn), and it was an “adaptation of agriculture to peasants’ consumption needs and not to the export needs, which are not theirs.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 652).
But the productivity problem was also related to the fact that the profit concept was unknown and unpracticed in the peasant household:
“the organization of work (household – A/N) is not based on the principle of obtaining gain, but of a different kind of economic organization, which Aristotle called and we now call natural economy, which lies in subordinating production to consumption. The household works to cover consumption needs, not to gain.” (Vulcanescu, 2009: 154).
Thus, on the one hand, the logic of peasant economic activity is to intensify work until it manages to cover the family needs and, on the other hand, until it reaches the living standard “decided” by the communal life of the village. (Vulcanescu, 2009:169). Thus, the agriculture technologization solutions may fail if their purpose was to raise the overall agricultural production because, Vulcanescu draws the attention, peasants may prefer to reduce their activity, being helped by machines, rather than to make the same effort for a greater production. (Vulcanescu, 2005: 642). Similarly, the idea of raising the peasantry’s living standard may entail, in turn, its own perverse effects. Being applied by “artificial consumption stimulation”, it may lead to loss of the ability to adapt to difficult living conditions that the household used to have, or to entering a circuit of “meeting the factual needs created by advertising suggestion.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 644).
All these punctual criticisms are part of a broader conservative vision that describes another type of neo-serfdom – the capitalist type, expressed by the peasantry’s dependence on intermediaries (to the big markets) and banks. Capitalism, says Vulcanescu, exploits peasantry indirectly, leaving the ownership structure intact. It is enough to make the agricultural producer dependent on the ways to reach the market and attach him to improper credit policies whereby he gets to pay to the new masters almost all or even more than the old tithes. In fact, as a referent at the Ministry of Economy, Vulcanescu showed that the credit policies used at the time for the peasantry led to the strong crisis during the Great Depression when, amid the collapse of agricultural prices, debt payments by the peasants, bankrupt by the economic context, was likely to lead to serious social unrest, which made governors implement the debt “conversion” solution, exempting peasants from loan payment. In order to avoid such situations, especially since the conversion iteration was unlikely, Vulcanescu shows that the credit forms available in agriculture were not suited for the recipients’ needs, but were credit forms of the former regime, ill-adapted to the post-reform situation. They were suited for the major agricultural holdings and lessees, not to the peasant holding, which was however required to provide high production and high living standard.
When the peasant household resorts to credit, shows Vulcanescu, it is not in order to increase production or profit, but to “maintain a natural balance between its elements: family size, extent of land, inventory.” Therefore, the available credit forms were totally inadequate, advantageous for a large agricultural holding, but for the small household they meant
“servitude, peasant’s dependence on banks. It is a question that many did not think of, if peasants’ manumission by boyars and their appropriation was made so that ten years later peasants should find themselves again, for two generations, “slave to masters” and banks, that would steal from their work and land production a rate higher than the tithe that the boyar used to take […]. If this had to be the appropriation result, we should admit that it was only a vain disturbance of our entire economic life.” (Vulcanescu, 1930: 15).
Of particular interest here is the way in which the ideas spread by economists, sociologists and agronomists influenced the interwar public life and the specific policies and practices applied to the Romanian village. Both the definition of peasantry’s problems and the solutions proposed, if derived from a hasty and superficial diagnosis, were likely to contain not only perverse effects but also to justify more subtle operating ways of the rural population under the pretext of Greater Romania’s modernization. In the imagination of the ideological supporters of peasantry, a land reform was sufficient to generate northern type model villages, with prosperous peasants and modern farms. In the absence of such course, the “blame” was placed on the peasantry’s backwardness and primitivism, and the solutions were covered by the same register of state modern action: legislative measures, tax policies, “machinization” of agriculture, capitalist education of peasants, their mobilization through “cultural” education actions, in all sorts of collective activities and in raising the living standards demands. There was the risk of entering a vicious circle whereby, in the lack of results of the “reforms”, the intention was to apply the same ineffective remedy, even harmful by its collateral effects. All these measures could be used to remedy deficiencies in agriculture, and some of them (especially the corporate solution) were also supported by Vulcanescu. The starting point was essential here, the pre-judgment from which came these solutions which, if applied without being adapted to the realities on the ground, they risked being deprived of the expected effect – which the best case.
The prospect brought in this debate by some members of Gusti’s School, such as Vulcanescu and Stahl, was deep and referred to the content of social and economic life of the village as well as its historical paths, ignored or considered irrelevant by the academic and ruling elites. The existence of common ownership forms or the family economic logics of peasant households were social life phenomena that generated typical events, incomprehensible for the country’s leaders. They were the remains of a functional social world, in which tradition did not mean a body of folk, picturesque traditions, or symbolic items of clothing and nutrition, but a complex lifestyle, a certain social and economic order in which natural resources were managed together and the agricultural activities necessary for subsistence were organized rationally, carefully and adapted to the local/family needs. The peasants’ poverty and backwardness was not the biggest problem, but the very disappearance of this “diffuse” tradition, as Stahl calls it. And the modernization applied by the liberal elites, and not only, to rural Romania, a world totally different from the urban Romania in Vulcanescu’s view, did nothing but to crumble what sociologists today call social capital which, once gone, is hardly restored, if it is restored at all.
The dissolution of the social world of the traditional village is described by H.H. Stahl in lines touched by lyrical notes, though, as an ideological orientation, he was close to socialism:
“after starting the dissolution, everything changes. (…) The individualism appears and a general “Let he who can, save himself” of these old members of a community to new horizons opened by the possibility of individual undertakings.” Thus, “all the old allies become hostile. Geographical conditions become insurmountable obstacles, while they used to be only protective crenels. The habit of living together puts lead in the wings of individualities about to be born. Traditional economy is weak in providing the capital necessary to investment for modern technical operation. The old common law, too simple, allows abuse and fraud, collective administration does not protect the weak. Confusion begins.” (Stahl, 1939:392).
The old orders were not made for the “capitalist” brave new world …
Vulcanescu – who also notes in his research observations the dissolution or transition from the old world to the new one – makes a strong contrast between the village world and the modern world:
“peasantry defends not only an economic status, but also a true outlook on life, a hierarchy of values, a consciousness, and moreover, a form of civilization! City dwellers may despise it, in the haughtiness of their struggle for comfort and technical progress. They can prophesy its destruction. But they can not take away its integration, more natural across the cosmos than the industrial man; neither the ultimate truth, which – at least I firmly believe it – it may own in the human species attempt to find a form of life which better suits the idea of humanity, peace of mind and happiness, than the hybrid, perverse and completely monstrous form of the urban and industrial life.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 669).
Of course, we are dealing here, in Vulcanescu’s case, with a reactionary option in the ethical sense which, in fact, he was fully aware of, marking the limits between the sociological and ethical argument in controversies.
However, I have shown in this research that the interwar debate on economic issues had serious cracks, not as much between the Liberals’ and the Agrarians’ “camps”, as the Romanian interwar period is commonly described, but between those who, either supporters of the city, industrial capitalism and modernity, or of the peasant property and agrarian capitalism, identify in peasants the villain and the cause of syncope in Greater Romania’s development, and those who, through sociological research instruments, discover a distinct social world which, indeed, is “dying out”. But the biggest problem, in their view, was precisely this phenomenon.
A current debate
The relevance of these divergences on one of the fundamental issues of modern Romanian history – the peasants’ issue – lies not only in bringing to the surface some internal contradictions of Gusti’s School and of the interwar academic elites. The social problems as such are related to a current topic. Besides the fact that in today’s Romania, much of the rural households are still practicing subsistence agriculture and the fact that, just like in the past, the mainstream discourse of the academic and ruling elites is to blame the inefficiency, backwardness and historical retardation of the native people, compared with the infallibility of the European type neoliberal modernization project, in the current discussions of social science there are some theories where Vulcanescu’s and Stahl’s “old-fashioned” research becomes significant.
These are the theories of social capital and path dependence and the research carried out by Elinor Ostrom on the commons. The capital, that body of informal rules shared by members of a community, as shown by authors like Fukuyama (Fukuyama, 1999: 8-26), is a necessary precondition for any collective action of cooperation, including the economic ones. Rather than a mentality which is standard and abstractly defined as capitalist, this fund may determine the efficiency of institutions and human actions. In the absence or disappearance of social capital, the “reforms”, “modernization” and the developed society building through state action, often takes the outline of a utopian attempt to translate an abstract prototype into reality. This happens in the happy case where the reformist agenda does not hide, in fact, a strategy of monopolization of economic resources in its personal benefit, as the Romanian forty-eighters and liberal elite was accused of doing.
Beyond the social capital, the peasant matter also raises the issue of economic systems and their universal validity. Taking over Ceajanov’s theories about the peasant family economy, Vulcanescu rejected the generalization of capitalist economic categories and the mentality of an “abstract and invariable homo economicus” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 631), considering this process, first of all, an epistemological mistake through its one-sidedness (Vulcanescu, 2005: 726). The recent research led by Elinor Ostrom about how some communities (in fact, most of them are rural areas with traditional coexistence rules) manage to deal with scarce common resources (such as water) challenges precisely this theoretical model of the “tragedy of common goods” and “prisoner’s dilemma”, according to which, cooperation between people in such conditions is practically impossible, because it is not a rational choice for those involved, and the only options to avoid a violent anarchy are either “Leviathan” (or the state) or the “market” (privatization). (Ostrom, 2007: 15-43).
What do the theories about social capital and the commons have to do with the Romanian village and the Eastern peripheral modernity? The “diffuse tradition” and the community life that H.H. Stahl wrote about, superimposed on a personal, “peasant” type of economy, in which common resources were managed, tailored to local realities, topic of the research undertaken by Vulcanescu, formed that capital without which, no matter how great the financial capital is, the society has no consistency: the social capital. Once crumbled, destroyed, “reformed”, these particularly sensitive social realities that form the fabric of a society gave way to an atomized, nihilistic society (as Golopentia feared), lacking autonomy and therefore easily subject to servitude, be it dressed in “German” clothes.
Cornăţeanu, Nicolae (1935), Cercetări asupra rentabilităţii agriculturii ţărăneşti, Ed. Monitorul Oficial şi Imprimeriile Statului, Bucureşti.
Cornăţeanu, Nicolae (1930), Reforma agrară şi gospodăria noastră agricolă, Editura Cartea Românescă, Bucureşti
Cuza, A.C. (1933), Studii economico-politice (1890-1930), Ed. Casei Şcoalelor, Bucureşti.
Fukuyama, Francis (1999), The great disruption. Human nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, Profile Books, London.
Golopenţia, Anton (2002), Opere complete, Vol. II, Ed. Univers Enciclopedic, Bucureşti.
Gusti, Dimitrie (1938), „Plan de acţiune pentru 1938”, Sociologie Românească, nr. 1-3.
Gusti, Dimitrie (1938), ”Participarea satelor la organizarea ţării”, Sociologie Românească, nr. 4-6.
Gusti, Dimitrie (1938), ”Starea de azi a satului românesc. Întâiele concluzii ale cercetărilor întreprinse în 1938 de echipele regale studenţeşti”, Sociologie Românească, nr. 10-12.
Gusti, Dimitrie şi colaboratorii, Cornova 1931, Editura Quant, Chişinău.
Madgearu, V. N. (1936): Agrarianism, Capitalism, Imperialism. Contribuţiuni la studiul evoluţiei sociale româneşti, Ed. Economistul S.A.
Murgescu, Bogdan (2010), România şi Europa. Acumularea decalajelor economice (1500-2010), Ed. Polirom, Iaşi.
Otrsom, Ellinor (2007), Guvernarea bunurilor comune. Evoluţia instituţiilor pentru acţiunea colectivă, Ed. Polirom, Iaşi.
Pop, Mihai (2010), Vreau să fiu şi eu revizuit, Ed. Paideia, Bucureşti.
Rostas, Zoltan (2009), Strada Latină nr. 8, Ed. Curtea Veche, Bucureşti.
Stahl, Henri H. (1981), Amintiri şi gânduri din vechea şcoală a ”monografiilor sociologice”, Ed. Minerva, Bucureşti.
Stahl, Henri H. (1946) , ”Sociologia satului devălmaş românesc”, vol. I, Fundaţia Regele Mihai I, Bucureşti.
Stahl, Henri H. (1938), „Filosofarea despre filosofia poporului român”, Sociologie Românească, nr. 4-6.
Stahl, Henri H. (1939), „Nerej. Un village d’une region arhaique”, vol. III, Institut des Sciences Sociales de Roumanie, Bucureşti.
Thorner, Kerblay and Smith (1966), A.V. Chayanov on The Theory of Peasant Economy, Homewood, Illinois.
Vulcănescu, Mircea (2005), Opere, Vol. II, Ed. Univers Enciclopedic, Bucureşti.
Vulcănescu, Mircea (2009), Spre un nou medievalism economic. Scrieri economice, Ed. Compania, Bucureşti.
Vulcănescu, Mircea (1934), „Creditul agricol pe termen mijlociu”, Tribuna Financiară, nr. 15.
Zane, G. (1936), Ţărănismul şi organizarea statului român, PNŢ, Biblioteca de Educaţie Ţărănească.
Zeletin, St. (1927), Neoliberalismul, studii asupra istoriei şi politicei burgheziei române, Ed. Pagini agrare şi sociale, Bucureşti.
Zeletin, St. (2005), Neoliberalismul. Studii asupra istoriei şi politicii burgheziei române, Ed. Ziua, Bucureşti.
 Here is how Vulcanescu explains this: “The work of the economic team is not like other teams’ work. It does not capture manifestation as it occurs, but three quarters of its work consists of reconstituting manifestation as it occurred. Therefore, the main element of the research is the economic conversation (discussion: not in the sense of “sociological discussion” but current conversation). It happens, however, that unlike other areas, where peasants converse freely, as soon as you dredge up economic matters, they frown and shut up, or answer anything you want, but the truth. And yet this truth must be pulled on the spot.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 612).
 Vulcanescu notes in a few notes on the economic life of the village Dragus, saying three years had passed since he had last seen the village: “compared to the speed with which things here change, for some time, it is a lot.” (Vulcanescu, 2005: 778).
 I took the information in this subchapter from the edition A.V. Chayanov on the Theory of Peasant Economy, ed. D. Thorner, B. Kerblay, R.E. F. Smith, Illinois, 1966, especially from the introductory study signed by D. Thorner, “Chayanov’s Concept of Peasant Economy” and from the study of the Russian economist in the same edition, “On the Theory of Non-Capitalist Economic Systems.”
 Zeletin quotes John A. Hobson as an authority; an economist who proposed a “constructive liberalism” in which, unlike the classical one, the state plays an important role. Please see St. Zeletin, Neoliberalism, Ziua Publishing, 2005.
 It is interesting how the members of Gusti’s School positioned towards the model village idea promoted by Gusti especially during the Cultural Student Teams and Social Services. If the reactionary Mircea Vulcanescu rejected ironically (and discreetly) the idea of artificially replicating an organic way of life par excellence, Mihai Pop, another leading member of the school, believes that Gusti’s project has the flaw of blocking the social change marking the Romanian village. Pop considered that the Romanian village entered a process of “dismemberment of the old structure” that was already in the “final phase”, and such a model village would be served only to fix the “old forms of rural life,” an “illusory” and “deeply wrong” attempt, according to the famous anthropologist. (Pop, 2010: 366).