Ana Pauker: Dilemmas of a Reluctant Stalinist
May 21, 2003
Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with Robert Levy, Lecturer, Jewish History, Hebrew Union College and Academy of Jewish Religion, Los Angeles
Going far beyond an in-depth biography of a notorious Romanian political figure, Robert Levy’s presentation of Ana Pauker’s life is couched in terms of a highly relevant – if contentious – interpretation of the history of Judeo-Bolshevism and the divergent course of Romanian communism. Conventional wisdom reviles Ana Pauker. Indeed, on this point rival groups are unanimous: Romanian communists accuse her of being a sycophantic Stalinist; Jews see her as the archetype of the self-hating Jew; to Romanian nationalists, she typifies the Jews that brought communism to the country. Pauker has been accused of extreme immorality, dictatorial tendencies, being fanatically subservient to Moscow and even of denouncing her own husband and thus being directly responsible for his execution.
Levy explained that his original attraction to Ana Pauker as a research subject was that there were many reasons to hate her that had little to do with what she may or may not have done. As a communist, a woman and a Jew who not only served as Romania’s foreign minister but was also the de facto head of the Romanian communist party until 1948, Ana Pauker was a three-fold pioneer. Levy reasoned that she was an easy target and launched an extensive study of Pauker’s policies in order to separate myth from reality.
Levy’s research confirmed his suspicions. Far from being a marionette of the Moscow elite, Pauker had plenty of leeway to pursue her own agenda. Many of her policies flew in the face of Moscow’s strategies. For instance, Pauker opposed forced collectivization in favor of forging alliances with the bourgeoisie and refusing to overtax the rural peasant class. She opposed repressing minority groups, did not ban Zionist parties, and promoted unrestricted Jewish emigration to Israel. She defied Stalin on a number of important projects, such as the Danube-Black Sea Canal.
Ana Pauker’s faction, Levy argues, was responsible for the relatively liberal communist regime in Romania prior to 1948. But she pursued this path at her own peril. The influential position she achieved brought her power, but as a Jewish woman, she would never be able to achieve the popular support to sustain it. Instead, in order to justify Pauker’s indictment and planned execution, Pauker was characterized as a Stalinist monster, and provided a viable scapegoat for other Romanian communists. The myth of Pauker’s wickedness was sustained in order to avert the revolutionary anti-Stalinist trials of the Khruschev years; the implication was that with Pauker gone, the worst of the Stalinists had already been eliminated. Levy contends that this was the first step in the path towards the North Korean-like communist dictatorship that Romania suffered under Ceausescu. In the end, Pauker was removed from power in 1952, but escaped execution in Stalin’s anti-Jewish purges only because of his death in March 1953.