Poland: Behind the Crisis (1982) : What's General Moters Doing in Poland

What's General Moters Doing in Poland

OCTOBER 13, 1975

A significant development in economic relations between the Polish People's Republic and the U.S. may be in the making. It may profoundly affect the social structure not only of Poland but indirectly of other socialist countries in Eastern Europe and ultimately of the USSR itself. However, it is only the beginning of a trend and may be interrupted by counteracting economic and political events.

On September 28, 1975, the General Motors Corporation announced that it intended to sign an agreement with Poland to manufacture trucks there for sale throughout the world. GM said that it plans to begin work in Lublin in eastern Poland on a large plant to manufacture half-ton trucks. GM claims this would be one of the largest of such ventures in Eastern Europe by an American company.

It has also been reported that major operations in Poland are being considered by other American companies, including Westinghouse, The Singer Company already has a plant there.

The details of the GM-Polish deal are not available at this time in the U.S., but big business interests in this country seem pleased at the development. Such arrangements are deemed to be profitable to the U.S. and welcome by the Polish government.


The GM-Polish deal differs fundamentally, it seems to us, from agreements that were worked out between the Soviet Union and several West European capitalist countries to help build the giant truck factory complex on the Kama River in the USSR.

In the Soviet deal, the capitalist countries are supplying materials, technology, and engineering to build a Soviet industrial complex, to be run, and of course owned, by the USSR. It is otherwise with the Polish deal.

The plants are to be GM plants. Of course, GM will have to abide by the wage and labor code of the Polish government. There are no details available as to whether the Polish government will own the plant ultimately. But the products of the plant -- the half-ton trucks -- will be sold by GM throughout the world and profits of course will go to GM subject to restrictions by the Polish government.

It is to be noted that the Polish government and the U.S. have also agreed in principle on a long-term grain deal. President Ford last week announced that the ban on the sale of grain to the Soviet Union and Poland has been lifted so far as Poland is concerned. It is also to be noted that the discriminatory trade practices which the U.S. has imposed on most socialist countries, including the USSR and China (denying them so-called "most favored nation" status), do not apply to Poland. It was lifted a long time ago following an insurrection in Poland and elsewhere in 1956.


Whatever else the GM agreement may signify, the Polish People's Republic has opened the door, even if only slightly and temporarily, to the carnivorous multi-national corporations at a time when everywhere throughout the world and particularly in the underdeveloped countries they are under severe attack. Executives of these giant combines literally fear for their lives these days in a whole host of countries. They are everywhere a target of the wrath of the working class, especially among the oppressed people, but even in Western Europe, too.

It is no exaggeration to say that the multi-national corporations are having to run for their lives just to retain a foothold in areas previously treated as the private domain of American finance capital.

Trade and commercial relations between socialist and capitalist countries are of course unavoidable in the contemporary era and indeed absolutely necessary to avoid an almost total economic blockade such as the imperialists have imposed on Cuba, or earlier on the Soviet Union, China, and other socialist countries. There still is a virtual economic blockade by the U.S. against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam, and Cambodia. There are still trade and economic restrictions against the People's Republic of China, the USSR, and Albania, as well as others.

It is the specific character of the GM-Polish deal that is potentially very damaging to the social structure of Poland. That is our concern, not the general principle of economic and commercial agreements between capitalist and socialist countries. The GM-Polish deal could possibly be the opening for a neocolonialist penetration of American finance capital, which the ruling class in the U.S. has long been looking forward to in all of Eastern Europe and the USSR. It is from that point of view that we ought to examine it.

This deal comes at a time when U.S. imperialism is particularly pressed by its world economic crisis, the drying up of old markets and sources of raw material, and its urgent need to reorient itself in a direction where it can recoup the surplus value which is elsewhere imperiled or even totally lost.

We must examine the GM-Polish deal in the light of Poland's historical evolution since the Second World War and the vast transformations that have taken place since then.


The overthrow of the old ruling classes of Poland did not result from the type of socialist revolution that took place in the USSR, in China, in Cuba, in Viet Nam, or even in Yugoslavia. The old capitalist and landlord class was overthrown as a result of a military-bureaucratic transformation, where old Polish society and its ruling classes were destroyed but a great deal was also left intact.

The Polish People's Republic is largely a development that grew out of the revolutionary intervention of the Soviet army. Poland's old social order was transformed bureaucratically, and its possessing classes destroyed administratively. This is not to say that the Polish guerrilla forces, the Polish army, the Polish workers and peasants played no revolutionary role in this great social transformation. But it was the Soviet Red Army which was the dominant factor.

One need only remember that as late as 1949 Stalin could find no better way to deal with Polish defense against NATO than the appointment of a Soviet citizen (although of Polish extraction) General Rokossovsky, as Polish Minister of Defense. This was a humiliation of the Polish United Workers Party and was certainly grist to the mill of Polish anti-communist for which genuine Polish communists could only offer lame apologetics.


However, by 1974, when the Polish People's Republic celebrated its 25th anniversary, Poland had become tenth among the world's industrial nations. Poland claims that between 1938 and 1973, per capita income rose from $200 to $1300, and that 1973 industrial production was 20 times larger than before World War II.

Following the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, both industry and agriculture were collectivized. Here it is necessary to take into account the insurrections of 1956 and 1970 if one is to view the GM-Polish deal in its correct historical context.


The 1956 rebellion, which overthrew the established regime, was universally recognized by the bourgeoisie everywhere, and accurately in our opinion, as a counter-revolutionary development. Had not Gomulka been ushered into power, it might have turned into a full-scale counterrevolution. Khrushchev wanted to militarily intervene and stop Gomulka from assuming authority. It was, however, the advice of China's Chairman Mao, who counseled against military intervention, that helped to restrain Khrushchev. (Mao, however, was firmly for the Soviet intervention in Hungary.)

The counter-revolutionary insurrection, however, achieved some of its basic objectives. In the first place, agriculture was decollectivized. This is an exceptionally important development, which is frequently lost sight of or underestimated. Just as the change from individual farming to collective farming is a change in the mode of production in the sphere of agriculture, a transformation from collective to individual farming constitutes in effect a social counter-revolution in a vital sector of the nation's economy.

It is one thing for a workers' state to retain individual farming, that is, to retain the bourgeois mode of agricultural production, for a while, pending its collectivization at a later stage. It is something else again to reintroduce a bourgeois mode of production in agriculture after collectivization. To then go forward to collectivization is that much harder.

In Poland today about 85 percent of the agriculture is in private hands. Only one percent is collectivized; the rest is under some form of state control. Collectivization in agriculture for the most part has been abandoned and there is very little grounds to believe that it will be resumed on a large scale in the near future.

The existence of this bourgeois form of production side by side with planned economy in industry operates as a big drag on the population as a whole and the working class in particular. The struggle between the two sectors of the economy goes on continually.


And it is aggravated by the existence of so-called workers' councils -- a development which arose as a result of the 1956 insurrection.

Workers' councils as organs of political authority by the working class in the struggle to achieve a proletarian dictatorship and for a socialist society are, of course, a highly desirable phenomenon and everywhere have acted as battering rams against the old bourgeois order. But the workers' councils in Poland since 1956 were established to undermine the planned economy and not as organs of political power for the workers. They were a step in the direction of dismantling the planned socialist beginnings in Poland.

However, they ceased to be the widespread phenomenon that the Western bourgeoisie thought they would be, and the Polish government gradually reined them in, so that today they are little more than areas for more lucrative material incentive, especially for the industrial bureaucracy. But they are still subject to national planning, which is fundamentally socialist in character.

The planned economy of Poland is still a socialist economy -- in spite of the existence of material incentive, in spite of the existence of "workers' councils," and in spite of the bureaucratic governmental apparatus. This is an achievement of the Polish working class and the Polish people in general and will not easily give way to capitalist counterrevolution. Surrender to capitalist economy will not come easily.

The influence of the capitalist mode of agriculture in Poland is easily seen by the toll it takes on the life of the working class. Take the matter of inflation. Inflation is a phenomenon typical of capitalist countries, which can only make itself felt in a socialist country as a result of the influence of the world capitalist market or of mismanagement. As such, it can only be of marginal importance and the socialist government can easily absorb it without hurting the mass of the working people.

In Poland, however, inflation is fed by the capitalist nature of farming, which as we said is mostly in private hands. As a result, the price of agricultural products has risen sharply at the expense of the workers and the rural poor.

Only recently the Polish government admitted there was a two percent inflation rate last year (New York Times, October 9, 1975). In order to continue private capitalist agriculture, the government has been forced to give "increasingly large subsidies to Polish farmers who earn more for many of their products than consumers in cities pay for them." (New York Times, October 9, 1975.) This enriches the growing agricultural petty bourgeoisie at the expense of the workers and distorts and weakens the socialized sector of the economy. It operates as a constant invitation for reactionary intrusions and counter-revolutionary developments of all sorts. These in turn are bolstered by the existence of a powerful Catholic hierarchy, which stands four-square as a guardian of private property, particularly in the rural areas, where it remains strong.

In Czechoslovakia, and especially in the German Democratic Republic, the two countries in Eastern Europe geographically close to Poland, agriculture is collectivized. It should therefore not be surprising, as the New York Times admits, that "Poles are painfully aware that shops in East Berlin and Prague are far better stocked then here, that food and clothing are better, that restaurants, hotels and other amenities are better abroad, and that the East Germans and the Czechs and Slovaks work shorter hours under better conditions." (New York Times, October 9, 1975.)


These, then, are the conditions under which the Polish People's Republic has embarked upon an agreement with General Motors which may have far-reaching consequences. The agreement should also be seen against the background of the 1970 uprising of the workers which ousted Gomulka. It was a victorious insurrection and had the effect of reining in to some extent the depredations of the governmental bureaucracy against the economy and the workers.

The 1970 rebellion differed fundamentally from the earlier one in 1956. It was directed exclusively against high prices of food, particularly meat. It was purely an economic struggle of the workers against the insensitivity of the bureaucracy. It was not a reactionary attack against the socialist character of the state.

As such it was immensely effective, so much so that the government was thereafter obliged to freeze all food prices. They have now been frozen for the fourth successive year, even while industrial income has risen by an average of nine percent since 1971. This is a considerable achievement of the Polish workers. It has also thrown consternation into the hearts of the bureaucracy. Edward Gierek, who became the Polish CP leader after the workers ousted Gomulka, has learned to tread carefully since he assumed leadership.


Unquestionably, those who abandoned the Polish People's Republic long ago, calling it either a capitalist state or a satellite of the so-called "social imperialism" of the USSR, will merely regard the GM-Polish deal as confirmation of their viewpoint. In like fashion, the Socialist Workers Party, which nominally holds that the countries of Eastern Europe are workers' states but in practice treats them as capitalist states, will feel reinforced in its views.

We have never been uncritical supporters of any of the socialist countries. But our view of the 1956 rebellion differed fundamentally from that of the SWP which joined the bourgeoisie in hysterically hailing the "revolutionary development." We clearly recognized the reactionary character of the rebellion but also saw that the counter-revolution had only partially succeeded.

We supported the workers in 1970 precisely because their struggle reinforced the struggle for a healthier workers' state, unlike the 1956 rebellion.

The GM deal, in and of itself, has only a potential for counter-revolutionary developments. Whether the process set in motion is reinforced or halted depends on further developments not only in Poland and Eastern Europe, but also in the USSR. In the long run, it will depend on the outcome of the struggle between the two world systems -- that of the socialist countries and that of imperialism, which is daily being battered everywhere.

A successful revolution in Portugal, in Spain, in France, or for that matter in any other significant area of the world, can reinforce the determination of the Polish working class to retain and strengthen socialism as against the willingness of the Polish leaders to accommodate themselves to imperialism.

In the meanwhile, our basic appraisal of the Polish People's Republic as a workers' or socialist state -- though badly deformed -- remains valid. The socialist sector of the economy, brought into being through the overthrow of the old landlord-capitalist class, is decisive. And it must be defended by class-conscious workers everywhere against the offensives of imperialism and internal reaction.

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