Poland: Behind the Crisis (1982) : Fundamental Causes of the Polish Crisis Part 1

Fundamental Causes of the Polish Crisis
Part 1

AUGUST 20, 1980

The current, very serious crisis in Poland goes far beyond the demands of the striking workers. Even if the strike is settled on some acceptable basis to the government and to the workers, it will by no means solve any of the basic problems confronting the Polish masses.

The current crisis is symptomatic of a far deeper, much more profound crisis which is rooted in the dual character of the Polish social system.

On the one hand, the People's Republic of Poland is legally and constitutionally structured as a socialist state. It can, however, be regarded as socialist only in a very narrow, restricted, and purely sociological sense. Its socialist character derives mainly from the public ownership of the basic means of production and elements of socialist planning that the government still retains, but much of which it has virtually abandoned.

In most other respects the Polish government has succumbed to a bourgeois economy. This is most dramatically illustrated by the abandonment of collectivization of agriculture and the return to private, bourgeois methods of production to the point where more than 87 per cent of all agricultural production is in private hands.


The food crises in Poland, which brought about the 1970 strikes and their suppression, are a recurring phenomenon. They stem directly from the return to bourgeois forms of production which enrich some of the wealthy farmers but which are incapable of raising production to meet the needs of the vast majority of the Polish people.

The current meat crisis, which induced the government to raise the price of meat, is unquestionably directly related to the government's handling of the agricultural problem. The government's effort to stimulate agricultural production on a bourgeois basis by granting more and more lucrative incentives in the form of price increases at public expense has proved to be a failure as a means of increasing production.

This is what is completely hidden in the imperialist press.

It is also true that there have been several years of poor crops as a result of bad weather. That, however, is not the fundamental basis for the food crisis, which has lasted for more than a decade.

The government's resort to huge purchases of grain and other foodstuffs from abroad is directly related, not only to the restoration of bourgeois agriculture, but to the widening capitalist market economy, to the growing bourgeois trend of continually reducing the socialist sector in favor of bourgeois market economic practices.


This is not altogether new. As long ago as December 14, 1970, the New York Times observed regarding changes in Poland's five-year plan, "The changes [in the Polish economic plan] are aimed at diversifying and decentralizing the nation's economic base." The key word here, of course, is decentralizing, which is a code word for restoration of the bourgeois market economy.

"They will replace," the Times added approvingly, "some of the management techniques of centrally-planned economies [meaning, of course, socialist economies] with more competitive, [that is, capitalist] methods used in the West."

How splendidly successful these "new techniques" and the "more competitive methods" are is shown by the very severe character of the present crisis. This singularly significant truth is what is deeply hidden in the bourgeois press and what the Polish leadership, if it is willing to overcome the crisis on a socialist basis, must face up to.

Alongside the bourgeois sector of the economy has arisen the power of the Catholic hierarchy which aggressively cultivates, promotes, and intrigues with the so-called dissidents and bourgeois liberal elements in the government to prop up the private, capitalist sector of the economy. It is on this basis that the Catholic hierarchy has emerged as the "champion of the masses. In reality, however, it is the defender and promoter of a full-scale bourgeois restoration.


Dual power has thus existed in Poland for a number of years in a now hidden, now open form with the church hierarchy as one of the antagonists and the official governing group as the other. The church hierarchy has been amassing more and more power and a succession of leaders in the government has steadily been giving way more and more to the bourgeois opposition.

Such a contradictory condition in society cannot exist for long. Poland, in truth, has been approaching a fork in the road for a number of years, if not decades.

To properly understand this, it is necessary to brush aside the imperialist slanders, lies, and distortions regarding Poland as a "puppet" or "satellite" of the Soviet Union. It is equally important to denounce the slanders of so-called ultraleft groupings in the working-class movement which, taking their cue from the Chinese leadership, have for years slandered Poland as a "puppet of social-imperialism," meaning the USSR.

In reality, both the imperialist as well as the Beijing version of Poland's difficulties are objectively a defense of international capitalism.

What has been truly obscured with regard to Polish development until virtually the outbreak of the recent strikes is not Poland's relationship to the Soviet Union, but its relationship to international finance capital, to imperialism.


Lately the bourgeois press has been pouring out statistics showing the enormous indebtedness of the Polish government to Western banks. Some are highly exaggerated but almost all are calculated to cover up the role of Western imperialism and put the blame for Poland's economic plight on "communist inefficiency," "an over-centralized economy," and "dogmatic inflexibility in planning."

In a word, the imperialist press is putting the onus of the economic crisis in Poland on Marxist economic theory and communist practices, and not at all on where it really belongs -- on the enormous penetration of international finance capital into Poland to the point where Poland's entire economy is now, by agreement of the Polish government, monitored by the international, imperialist bankers.

The huge loans that the Polish government obtained from Western banks were not regarded as a very serious infringement on the economy for a number of years. This was partly because these loans were not publicly well-known and partly because they did not appear to be of a magnitude as to endanger either the economy of the country or its political independence as a socialist state.


However, in a front-page story on January 26, 1979, the New York Times broke the news of Poland's deteriorating financial and economic situation and its enormous indebtedness to the Western imperialist banks. "As part of an effort to obtain a major, new loan," said the Times, "Poland has agreed to permit Western banks to monitor its economic policies, American bankers say. They regard the concession as a historic breakthrough in the financial relations with the communist world." As indeed it is.

"To persuade the banks to agree to the new financing," the Times continued, "Poland has already had to announce a strict, new budget for 1979 and provide its creditors with comprehensive, new information on its financial situation." Onerous as it is to capitulate to this demand, it is not all.

The Times went on, "The banks involved in the new credit will henceforth track the progress of the Polish economy much as the International Monetary Fund monitors the economies of non-communist countries in financial distress" [meaning, of course, underdeveloped and oppressed countries].

Coming from a socialist country that is the tenth most industrialized in the world and so rich in natural resources, this was an unbelievable departure from the most elementary precept of national sovereignty since it entails approval of the national budget by the bankers. So unbelievable was it that this writer was prompted not only to try to verify this with several of the 14 U.S. banks in question (which included Bank of America, Manufacturers Hanover, Bankers Trust, Chemical Bank, Citibank, and so on) but to prod the Polish authorities here for more information. Alas, the Times story unfortunately proved all too true.


The meaning of this should be crystal clear. Any government official in the oppressed countries, from Argentina to Zambia, knows what a socialist government should know in its bones -- that permitting Western imperialist finance capital to "monitor economic policies" and "track the progress of the economy" is in large part a surrender of national sovereignty. It paves the way to enslavement, to being bound to the chariot wheel of imperialism.

"We don't have a blueprint for the Polish economy to follow," one banker is quoted as saying in the same Times article, "but we made it clear that belt-tightening was a prerequisite to any new credits."

It is this belt-tightening which the bankers demanded and which the Polish government has foisted on the workers and which the workers now have to suffer through, which is the real, underlying cause of the strike crisis.

This monitoring by the banks of the Polish economy means, to quote this banker, "that it gives Western capitalism a certain say in how the Poles proceed."


This, then, is the real meaning of "Polish independence," as the so-called dissidents and the Catholic hierarchy have been preaching. This is what they mean by "national sovereignty" and "independence"! This is what former President Gerald Ford meant with his well-known remark during his 1976 pre-election TV debate with then candidate Carter that "Poland is an independent nation."

It turns out that Polish independence is a lie, the result of imperialist deception and domestic coverup by the Polish leadership.

If Poland is now saddled with loans amounting to $20 billion, the interest alone is staggering. Business Week of August 25, 1980, says, "Polish exports to the West are already heavily mortgaged. Debt repayment and service absorb virtually 100 per cent of all hard currency earnings."

What is this situation but a return to the situation Poland faced in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when Western bankers counseled belt-tightening and austerity and the government clubbed the workers into line to pay the interest on the loans?

How does Poland's present-day situation really differ from the situation which imperialism imposes on the people of Zaire, the Philippines, Ecuador, or Brazil? These countries carry an equal burden of mortgaging their exports to the U.S., British, West German, and Japanese banks.


Were it not for the outbreak of the capitalist crisis on a worldwide scale, the Polish economy might not necessarily be in such a severe crisis. But it is precisely the capitalist economic crisis which has exposed the dual character of the Polish social system.

Beginning with Gomulka and followed by Gierek, the Polish economy has been more and more geared toward the Western capitalist market, to the blind forces of monopoly capitalism. As a result of Poland's rightward turn, starting with Gomulka, all the Western capitalist countries slowly opened up trade channels with Poland and lifted the commercial and economic ban which the imperialists have generally imposed on other socialist countries.

Following the insurrection of 1956, the Polish government's increasing turn to the West finally persuaded Washington to lift its trade ban on Poland and grant it the so-called most-favored-nation status in trade.

But it is not trade per se that the imperialists are interested in. It is super-profits and political domination. Were trade relations conducted on an equal basis, there would be eagerness and no objection by all socialist countries to trade with the imperialists. But imperialism is predatory monopoly finance capital which inexorably seeks political domination to secure its extortionate loans and strings-attached commercial trade relations.

Where the imperialists cannot extort political conditions or other means of securing their investments, they do not trade with socialist countries. Only under very compelling conditions, such as the need for strategic materials or for purely political purposes, do they extend to them commercial and trade relations on a wide scale.


The Polish government in the early 1960s pinned its hopes on an upward cycle of capitalist development and forgot what every schoolgirl and schoolboy in Poland who has learned the ABCs of Marxism knows -- that a capitalist crisis inevitably shrinks the world market for exports until the next cycle of capitalist economic development.

The promise of lush markets has failed to measure up to expectations even at the present time for Polish coal, an energy source. The imperialists themselves are involved in one of the most ferocious trade wars at a time when their markets are contracting. Squeezing out Poland is far more palatable to the imperialists then letting it share in the market.

What, then, can be done at this time?

The issue must first be accurately formulated and made to be understood by the workers. Should the workers surrender to belt-tightening as demanded by the bankers?

(On August 19, 1980, a representative of the Bankers Trust Company, one of the most powerful banks in the country and one of the largest creditors in the consortium which made the loans to Poland, speaking for all 14 banks involved in the loans, appeared on PBS-TV on the McNeil-Lehrer Report.

His response to a question on what should be done in light of the crisis in Poland was instructive and should be enlightening to every worker: "The Poles have to tighten their belts and make sure to pay their debts.")

No, the workers must not be made to bear the burden imposed by the banks, to which the mismanagement of the leadership has greatly contributed by utterly false and revisionist policies. These policies are based on bourgeois pragmatism and not at all on any Marxist concept of building socialism or any real understanding of the nature of Poland's reciprocal relations with imperialism.

Every country, including of course every socialist country, has a right and a need to trade and to carry on normal commercial as well as diplomatic, cultural, and social relations with other countries. That's elementary and beyond dispute.

But it's another matter entirely, as Business Week puts it, to "mortgage" the country's economy to international finance capital.

Admittedly, the situation in Poland is very grave. Aside from the Polish Communist Party and those sincere and devoted administrators there is no organized political force of a progressive character capable of taking the initiative and redirecting Polish society in a genuinely socialist direction.

The bourgeois elements, particularly those organized around the church hierarchy, are formidable. There is the danger that they will, in the course of playing demagogue, as they are in the present strike, seize the political initiative and urge the workers to move in a bourgeois restorationist direction.


Rather than impose hardships on the workers, since the crisis is not of their making and does not grow out of any inadequacies of the socialist system, it is much more preferable to reach an agreement with the striking workers and reject the belt-tightening, austerity demands of the international bankers by suspending debt service on the loans and declaring a moratorium on them.

More than anything else it is necessary to turn away from the enslaving character of the type of trade and commercial collaboration which the Polish leaders have been carrying on with the West. In this task it is urgently necessary that all socialist countries collaborate in such a way as to strengthen each other and help the Polish government overcome its crisis on the basis of solidarity with all other socialist countries.

This is not the full answer to Poland's problems, it is only a beginning. However, as we stated on June 6, 1979:

"Poland is a halfway society.... The Polish state structure is in reality a concealed form of dual power. The tendencies toward bourgeois restoration are strong and politically vocal. The socialist administrators of the state are commanding less and less respect, even from ardent supporters of the socialist cause.

"A fundamental realignment of class forces is necessary in Poland. The continued existence of a concealed form of dual authority will prove unendurable if the economic situation becomes aggravated, especially by unforeseen developments.

"It is difficult to foresee what form the struggle, which will surely break out into the open, will take. But whatever its form, it is the creative initiative and resourcefulness of the class-conscious workers of Poland that must be relied upon to play the leading role in charting a new course for socialist reconstruction.

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