Poland: Behind the Crisis (1982) : Introduction


The following collection of articles about events in Poland was written for the most part during and immediately after the August, 1980 strikes in that country. The articles were originally published in Workers World newspaper and still offer a guide to action as well as to understanding. By the time the material appears in this pamphlet, events will have proceeded in Poland and the political situation will have changed, if only to a degree. Nevertheless, the series as a whole, which is printed here together with previous articles on the (not accidentally) Polish Pope provides an indispensable analysis of current Polish society and arms the reader with a basic comprehension of the class forces therein.

The articles are all too unique in their emphasis on the real reason for the Polish crisis -- namely, the tremendous loans by Western imperialist banks and their consequent pressure on the Polish government to retrench and cut back on benefits to the Polish workers. This banker-imposed retrenchment very much includes the rise in the price of meat which touched off the August protests. Others have mentioned the role of the Western banks, but nobody else has shown the banks as the fundamental cause of the crisis and insistently called for an indefinite moratorium on this (now) $25 billion debt, as Sam Marcy has done here.

The U.S. ruling class and its sycophants have hailed the Polish protests and wildly acclaimed the workers' strikes (the Polish workers' strikes, that is, not the strikes of U.S. workers!). Marcy shows that it is not really a question of the rights of Polish workers, but rather one of the right of imperialist banks to rule over socialist Poland. From his analysis it is clear that the Polish United Workers Party leadership could have called upon the strikers to fight the Western banks as well as to check the capitalist tendencies in the countryside. Thus they could have outmaneuvered the restorationist tendencies of the Church hierarchy and right-wing opponents of the regime. But they did not do this, or apparently even attempt it. And other class forces have begun to take command.

The situation was and is a complex one. At first glance it would appear that the events of last August were merely a matter of workers protesting difficult conditions and complaining about bureaucratic practices. And indeed if that were all that was at stake in Poland, it would be easy to side with the strike movement and solidarize with "Solidarity."

But as Marcy shows, infinitely more is at stake than this. One almost infallible guidepost in understanding at least the broad character of the events is the propaganda campaign of the U.S. ruling class in behalf -- allegedly -- of the Polish workers (at the very same time that they are waging a ruthless campaign for wage-cuts, layoffs and social cutbacks in the United States! ) But that does not answer the bigger questions, which are posed in the following pages.

Marcy's articles do not deal so much with the propaganda of the ruling class as with the actual tactics and strategy for its planned take over of Poland by a "cold" counter-revolution -- that is, by economic penetration and political infiltration. This is what the Polish as well as American workers need to know most of all -- the concealed strategy of the U.S. ruling class.

It is this strategy, by the way, that explains why a section of the ruling class, along with the Polish Cardinal and the Polish Pope, want to "go slow" in Poland so as to avoid a Soviet intervention, with or without civil war. Some of them think they can travel the Yugoslav road toward capitalism, and in fact they are doing their best to get the Polish workers onto this particular highway in the name of Polish nationalism, virtual supremacy of Church over State(i.e., the workers' state), fortification of private property in land, and the planned decentralization of the nationalized factories.

The new union "Solidarity" has now had time to crystallize its program somewhat since the bulk of these articles were first printed. And it is clear from Solidarity's collaboration with right-wing elements who are even farther to the right than the Catholic hierarchy that the leadership of Solidarity is definitely not in solidarity with the goals of socialism and has in fact consciously taken the road to capitalist restoration.

At the moment these lines are being written, Lech Walesa, the president of Solidarity, is visiting the Pope in Rome. This is no religious pilgrimage but a highly political errand for world capitalism. In the middle of his blessing, the Pope, an "expert" on Poland, told Walesa to "go slow," implying that he should not push for a confrontation with the state. At almost the same instant in Washington, that most hawkish of Cold Warriors, Zbigniew Brzezinski, another "expert" on Poland, expressed satisfaction with the present tempo of the capitalist restoration movement, calling the new situation a "compromise" that should be supported by the United States. This view, like the Pope's advice, flows from the estimate that the basic shift of Polish society is to the right and, given the present state of things and the policies now being followed, ultimate capitalist restoration is inevitable -- again, if there is no confrontation.

Even under these difficult conditions we support all the progressive demands of the Polish workers, including anti-bureaucratic demands (such as an end to corruption, special privileges, etc.). And there should be no principled objection to strikes in a socialist country. If the workers sometimes go on strike, they are not, ipso facto, opposing socialism. But the timing of a strike, who leads it, and the circumstances under which it takes place can indeed give it an anti-socialist character.

Lenin insisted upon the workers' right to strike and spelled out his position during the famous Trade Union Discussion on December 30, 1920. "We must use these organizations (i.e., the unions -- V.C.) to protect the workers from their state. ..." he said. And he added the next day that there were "bureaucratic distortions" in the state. But Lenin was talking to communists and the workers generally understood that both capitalism and its subservient Church hierarchy were their class enemies. Lenin finished the above sentence, incidentally, by saying "... and to get them (the unions) to protect our state." It is hardly necessary to add that Lenin had in mind by such an approach the improvement and strengthening of the workers' state and was looking forward to a more direct, more perfect workers' rule, as outlined by him in his The State and Revolution.

Neither Lech Walesa nor any of his leading cohorts or advisers has the slightest interest in The State and Revolution or for that matter in Lenin himself. The Pope and the Polish Cardinal are their political guiding stars, the bitterly anti-Soviet and vulgarly anti-Leninist Solzhenitsyn is their ideologist while the Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Morgans, the Krupps, the Flicks and the other imperialist bankers are their off-stage puppet-masters.

In view of all that has happened, it is quite probable that the official Polish Communist trade union leaders have lost the confidence of the majority of the industrial workers. If that is so it is a painful fact and must be recognized. But the formation of an "independent" union is something else again.

It is like many an "independent" union in the United States. The latter begins as an opposition to some bureaucratic practice in the national or international organization of workers in an industry. But once it cuts its ties to the rest of its class, it falls prey to the scheming pressures of the big corporation. At first it may register some substantial gain, and of course, the dues are lowered! But later, the company takes the "union" over and reimposes the slave conditions of the past.

This is only a partial analogy with the "independent" union called "Solidarity." The difference in Poland is that the "independent" union there is not the product of naive or inexperienced leaders, it is being guided by a whole team of rightwingers and Church figures who know just what they want. Its "victory" is far more likely to be an historic defeat for the working class than is the emergence of a company union in an isolated U.S. plant.

As opposed to the Polish workers "independent" leadership the workers themselves are another matter. The workers could throw off the right-wing leadership entirely and be the best defenders -- and rejuvenators -- of the workers' state. But for this to happen, there has to be a communist orientation. Under present circumstances, the Communist leadership or a section of it must appeal to them against the reaction -- against the hierarchy, against the rural bourgeoisie, and above all, against the Western imperialist bankers, who are exploiting them through the colossal loans of the past few years. To do this, the Polish CP leaders would have to repudiate their own recent course of conciliation to these elements.

Marcy showed in these articles that hard as it may have been to do it, it could have been done. Positions have hardened in the few months since then. But as long as the Polish party leadership has not actually capitulated to the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie and has not been overthrown, it is still possible to do it.

The world movement would receive a terrible blow if the course of socialist progress should be wholly reversed in Poland and a bourgeois regime reinstituted. But this blow can be fended off or avoided altogether if the forces of socialism can rise to their historic task. It is to be hoped that they can and will.

Vince Copeland
January 18, 1981

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