In February 1956, Khrushchev delivered his famous secret speech at the congress of the Communist Party, in which he criticized Stalin for his abuses and cult of personality. It was a surprise not only for the delegates to the congress, but for the whole world.
Aurel Popescu was at that time a “living space” inspector working for the city of Bucharest, which means that he checked the allocation of apartments to the population and resolved problems related to rents and distribution of space. It was a position which could be very lucrative for one who had no scruples taking bribes. Who was not ready to pay a substantial sum of money to obtain a large apartment close to the city center? However, Aurel did not take bribes. He was a Christian and he felt that God put him in that position to do good, especially helping poor families who needed a place to live.
Aurel and his fellow inspectors spent hours every day visiting places where their intervention was needed. The rest of the hours were spent at their office, which was directly one floor under the mayor’s office. It was a collegial atmosphere, in which they joked, told stories and made good coffee. There was however some limit to this relaxed atmosphere: one has to be careful not to say something politically incorrect, as someone else may be a secret police informer who reported it to authorities.
One evening, Aurel was listening to Radio Free Europe, something which, if not legally prohibited, was strongly discouraged. (In reality, many, even Party members, spend some time in the evening with their fingers on the tuning buttons of the radio.) That evening came with some spectacular news: in his “secret” speech to the Communist party congress, Khrushchev has criticized Stalin. It was not supposed to be public knowledge, but somebody passed the text of the speech to the West where it soon became public.
A few phrases raised Aurel’s attention. One of the fundamental theses of the Communist doctrine to that point was that in socialism class struggle intensifies. This was an idea advanced by Stalin, who was looking everywhere for class enemies to crush. Khrushchev denounced it. No, he said in his speech, socialism brings harmony, therefore the class struggle subsides, not intensifies.
Aurel knew that soon the Romanian Communist Party will follow in the new direction shown by Khrushchev. Soon they will declare that in socialism the class struggle subsides. At that exact time it was dangerous to declare the new doctrine, but it will soon be just fine.
Next day at the office, after some conversation with his colleagues, Aurel said,
“Guys, I was thinking about something. I believe that this idea that in socialism the class struggle intensifies is totally wrong. How can it be? There are no more exploiting classes. Who is fighting who? The Communist Party is the only force, respected and obeyed by all. This theory is totally stupid.”
The other men in the office froze. Some continued their work as if they did not hear anything. Some walked out, while others tried to change the subject, but Aurel insisted,
“Honest, guys, this theory which claims that in socialism the class struggle intensifies is totally wrong. What do you think?”
Nobody answered. Perhaps many of them were thinking, “Poor Aurel, what will happen to him? Perhaps he will be fired, if not arrested. It is a pity, he was a very nice guy.”
Days passed and nothing happened to Aurel. Soon after that, the Romanian Communist Party made known, perhaps in an important article in their party newspaper, that the theory about the intensification of class struggle under Communism was mistaken. No, in fact the class struggle in socialism subsides.
When the change in direction was announced, a few of Aurel’s colleagues shook their heads and told him, like some sore losers: “That was no courage. You must have known in advance.”