Nepotism is not all that uncommon in the Communist world, despite Marxist pretensions to the contrary: Margot Honecker, wife of the East German leader, is her country's minister of education. Ludmilla Zhivkov, daughter of the Bulgarian president, is a member of the all-powerful politburo. Yurii Brezhnev, son of the Soviet Union's top banana, is first deputy minister of foreign trade. And so it goes.

But the nepotism of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu is more deeply rented because it is more obvious, and because of the implications of the posts held by members of his large family.

Each of Ceausescu's six brothers and three sisters holds a high position in the party or the government. His wife's one sibling also has found his way to the top of the heap. Romania's present prime minister, and his immediate predecessor, are Ceausescu brothers-in-law.

Although few people dare talk about it, what really irritates (and scares) Romanians is the high positions achieved by Ceausescu's wife, Elena, and by their younger son, Nicu. (Their other two children also hold party posts.)

The 62-year-old First Comrade is, next to her husband, the most powerful person in Romania. This is not just a matter of pillow influence: Elena Ceausescu is the third-ranking member of the government and, more importantly, the second-ranking member of the Romanian Communist Party. While opposition to her might well surface should Ceausescu die, she obviously is well placed to succeed him.

The son also rises: Nicu Ceausescu, a 28-year-old sometime playboy given to fast cars and pretty women, is being groomed to take his place one day in this Marxist dynasty. Nicu, who has represented his father on several important foreign missions, is head of the Communist Youth League and an alternate member of the Central Committee.

Ceausescu has been able to keep the lid on tight primarily because of Romanian xenophobia -- Romanians are a Latin island in a sea of Slavs -- and fear of the Soviet Union.

Seausescu allows no Russian troops within his frontiers, sends no troops abroad and follows a reasonably independent foreign policy: Romania, alone among the Eastern European nations, maintains diplomatic relations with both China and Israel; it was the only member of the Warsaw Pact not to participate in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.

But despite Ceausescu's iron rule, his nepotism is widely resented.