Poland: Behind the Crisis (1982) : Fundamental Causes of the Polish Crisis Part 2

Fundamental Causes of the Polish Crisis
Part 2

AllGUST 26, 1980

It is now the thirteenth day of the strikes in Poland. By all accounts they have become widespread enough to have created a national crisis of the first magnitude, both for the government and the cause of socialism.

It is difficult to believe that a situation so serious in its implications could be so terribly mishandled and mutilated to the detriment of both the governing group headed by Edward Gierek and the socialist cause as a whole.

The political and economic situation in Poland is both complex and at the same time singularly simple in the clear-cut alternatives which the government hopefully still has at its disposal.


Let us start with the very beginnings of the strike. No sooner had it become clear to the government that the strike had taken on serious and significant proportions, than the leadership should have cast aside all other problems and priorities and given the strike its undivided attention.

A principal prerequisite for doing this adequately was for Gierek himself, as both the actual head of state and the First Secretary of the Communist Party, to realize that the official trade union leadership and the other state organs responsible for dealing with the strikers had either lost their influence with the workers, lost control of the situation, could not understand the situation of the workers, or were never really directly and intimately associated with the workers enough to have gained any influence among them.

Under these circumstances it was utterly inadequate and completely self-defeating to merely replace functionaries and high officials with a new group which the vast majority of strikers had no reason to believe would in any way deal differently with them or have any more understanding of their basic economic problems.


As a worker himself who once toiled in the mines like other workers, Gierek should have known that in such a critical situation as that evolving in Poland, this was one time when he had to cast aside all so-called prestige matters, all conventional formalities of the high office he holds, and deal directly with the strikers themselves.

To the bourgeois snobs and to the elevated bureaucrats, this may have looked like a comedown and a dangerous surrender to the anti-socialist and bourgeois dissident elements. But in reality it would have been the only way to reach the hearts of the workers, to, as one of the strikers put it, "look them straight in the eye" and go over the real and common problems of the workers' conditions, and the sad state of the economy.

Of course, talk alone, dialogue alone, between the workers and the highest authority in the socialist regime, would not produce the desired results -- the kind of settlement which would alleviate the grievances of the workers and at the same time strengthen the socialist regime.

But, if need be, even great risks could be taken to win the workers rather than taking measures which would only mollify them without an attempt to win their confidence. If we understand correctly Gierek's first television talk, based merely on excerpts from the bourgeois press (no official text is being made available here or through the officials of the Polish government) he did not address himself to the specific economic problems of the workers.


What was necessary to win back the confidence of the workers was to quickly declare a basic across-the-board wage increase and, if need be, to extend it nationwide. This could have been done after direct discussions with the workers' representatives.

Losing the confidence of the workers is the worst of all situations for a socialist regime, which is based upon the working class as the dominant class in society.

Gierek's talk, however, was not calculated to win them and to reestablish confidence. It was calculated to persuade the workers that their economic grievances would be dealt with later, on an individual plant-by-plant basis and by the same officialdom.

At the same time by again officially admitting grave and serious errors and making wholesale dismissals from the Politburo (even though these dismissals may have been justified) Gierek weakened his own hand and strengthened the bourgeois opposition to the regime and gave the upper hand in the strike committee to that element among the workers who are now manipulated by bourgeois dissidents.

Gierek did nothing to strengthen the confidence of the broad mass of the workers who were frustrated by his talk. It left them a ready object for manipulation by the bourgeois dissident elements.


It cannot be stressed too much that strong though the bourgeois intelligentsia maybe (the dissidents are their most right-wing expression) they are in reality powerless in the economic structure of the country and their overall political influence on the working class is still peripheral, even at this late date.

So what was needed first and foremost was to redirect the attention of the government and its leading cadres toward strengthening itself among the workers at all cost, casting aside all other priorities.

Granting far-reaching economic concessions, in plain and unambiguous language, should have been the first order of business. This would have immediately taken the wind out of the sails of the bourgeois and anti-socialist elements on the periphery of the working-class movement and in the strikebound areas first and foremost.

In the second place, even the political demands could be discussed and, if need be, acceded to, to the extent that they do not interfere with or become a brake upon socialist construction and the orderly planning of a growing socialist economy. These political demands are not incompatible with a strong and powerful workers' government that has the confidence of the workers.

The autonomy or the so-called independence of the unions cannot for any length of time become a source of bourgeois restorationist power in an otherwise socialist-oriented environment as long as the government and the party assiduously pursue the goal of making the question of the workers' conditions their top priority in resuming the orderly construction of a socialist society.

The immeasurable sources of revolutionary socialist energy, which could be unleashed by a perspective based upon winning and maintaining the workers' confidence, would inevitably dissolve any retrograde and regressive tendencies, which are external influences on the working class, within the working-class movement, and above all in the trade unions.


It should be noted that in the initial stages the approach of both the government and the party to the workers' strike was to cast the strikers in the role not merely of an antagonist but of an "enemy." This was a near fatal error by those who are supposed to base their strategical and tactical approach on the Leninist theory of the nature of the state, including the workers' state.

A workers' state, even under the best of circumstances, is a dual phenomenon both socially and politically. In its paramount role it is the guardian in the struggle against bourgeois restoration and the organizer of overall socialist production. It is charged with the orderly planning and promotion of the reorganization of society and its transformation into a socialist society.

However, as Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Program and Lenin in his State and Revolution pointed out, the state in its economic role is also the distributor of the national income during the transition period to socialism. The basis for the distribution of the national income is according to the formula "to each according to their work" and not, as it is under a classless society, "from each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs."

Thus, in its role as the distributor of the national income the workers' state acts on the basis of bourgeois norms of distribution. This in turn makes a certain amount of tension between the workers and their own state inevitable. It is also possible, but not inevitable, that it may create sharp antagonisms between the workers and their own state that even go to the extent of outright hostility when the workers feel their interests are being neglected.

Failure to understand the dual character of the workers' state in this respect, failure to understand that a certain amount of opposition is to be expected from the workers, is a failure to understand the historically transitional role of the workers' state and, in particular, that it has a transitional bourgeois aspect to it which may be in conflict with the immediate aims of the workers.


The party, however, is the historical instrument of the proletariat and the ideological and political vanguard of the workers. It must be the embodiment of the workers' best interests. In times of tension between the state and the workers, as is the case now, and in times of worker dissatisfaction and even outright hostility, the party of necessity must be ready, even at some risk to the economy, to partially detach itself from the state with which it is so intimately interwoven and connected and which it has been leading; the party must be ready to create some distance between itself and the state and stand by the workers, even when they may occasionally be temporarily in error.

Failure to do so creates an utterly inadmissible confrontation between the workers and the party and opens the door for bourgeois elements to act as demagogues on behalf of the workers. Under no circumstances can the party abandon its role as the defender of the workers' interests.

Rather than carve out for itself a role as mediator between the workers and the bourgeois elements in Polish society who thrive on the bourgeois economic sector, rather than ally itself and curry favor with the reactionary church hierarchy, even going to the extent of opening up the publicly owned media to Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski to sermonize to the workers and counsel them, the Communist Party ought to firmly, clearly, and unequivocally stand with the workers. It ought to expose the bourgeois elements who thrive on the government's false policies of the past and who are in alliance with the foreign bank creditors of international imperialism.

By steadily giving in to demands without strong, direct intervention in this struggle and in the negotiations by Gierek himself, the Gierek leadership and its advisers have approached the situation in the most self-defeating of all ways. If need be, Gierek should have gone to Gdansk himself to address the workers. The concessions given only emboldened the bourgeois opposition and frustrated the majority of the workers at the present.


How could so many mistakes be made all at once? It is due to the fact that the objective of winning back the confidence of the workers is not the top priority of the Polish governing group. The top priority is putting the economy in order, to stabilize it.

Of course the economy must be stabilized. However, the economy is in truth a dichotomy. There is the socialized sector, the basic industries whose ownership is vested in the government. And there is now the vast and ever-growing bourgeois sector of the economy which is responsible for all the ills of the country.

For instance, on the eve of the so-called meat crisis it was disclosed that once again Poland was applying for a new and larger loan from the international capitalist bankers. These are the very same bankers to whom Poland is now indebted to the tune of $20 billion, which the finance minister finally admitted publicly yesterday. This enormous debt is like an albatross hanging around the neck of the government.

This huge indebtedness is the result of a series of so-called liberal economic reforms which in reality revived the bourgeois market and bourgeois methods of production in agriculture and in other spheres of economic life in Poland. These reforms have dragged Poland into the morass of the capitalist world economy, which is experiencing one of the most acute crises of its own.


For instance, this new loan agreement of close to a half-billion dollars that was nailed together over the summer by a group of Western banks led by Bank of America and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company" (Business Week, September 1, 1980) was supposed to be signed and effectuated on August 22, 1980. But in view of the growing peril engulfing the Polish economy and the specter of a strike wave, the loan agreement was held up.

The loan agreement, like all the other loan agreements which add up to the $20 billion, has strings attached to it -- austerity measures, belt-tightening, and veto power over the national budget. It's the kind of an agreement the bankers always make with underdeveloped countries, and even developed ones like Italy, where they try to suck the blood out of the workers in the form of extortionate interest rates.

This last agreement was to be signed in Warsaw. But, we are informed by Business Week , "it was hastily relocated to London."

Gierek is dividing his priorities between settling the strike and "adjusting the situation" so as not to imperil the loan or offend the bankers who unquestionably will demand their pound of flesh in the form of more austerity measures which are the principal cause of the strikes. Gierek has his eye on London more than on the port cities in the Gdansk area.


It should be noted that Poland's assurances on the loans to the bankers of Western imperialism are not mere verbal or written promises.

One must also know that there is a division in the ruling class, too, on the question of guarantees. The ultra-rightists in the U.S. ruling class were against the loans from the start because, in their view, they rest on the willingness of the communist government to carry out its end of the bargain.

But the Western bankers' reply to that is that they have collateral security in Poland in addition to the willingness of the Polish officialdom to agree to live by the bargain. The collateral security is the political power of the Catholic hierarchy and the bourgeois intelligentsia.

Sitting on the horns of this dilemma, the Gierek government, by its handling of the situation, has made the kinds of concessions over the years which mollify the international bankers, strengthen the bourgeois intelligentsia, widen the capitalist market economy, and tie Poland's destiny as a whole to the will-o'-the-wisp of Western international finance capital and its chronic capitalist crises.

It is false to say that the crisis in Poland arose out of differences on how much to invest in capitalist construction in order to industrialize the country more rapidly. Of course sound policy is necessary here as elsewhere. But it is not the principal cause of the crisis.


The beginnings of a socialist solution clearly lie, first of all, in fearlessly approaching the workers, granting new economic concessions even at great risk, explaining to them Poland's new bondage to the imperialist banks, suspending the payment of interest, and declaring a moratorium on foreign debts.

To the sycophants of imperialism who invoke the Soviet military threat, the following should be noted and repeated over and over again as the imperialist press fails to do: Even in the latest loan that the bankers extended or said they would extend to Poland, this was only done on the basis that the Soviet banks underwrote -- that is, guaranteed -- the bulk of the loans in the first place, as a means of aiding Poland out of its crisis.

In other words, it is high time to show that it is economic and financial contributions from the Soviet Union which are truly helping Poland. This is what the Polish government officials should be candid to the workers about, rather than raising the spectre of Soviet intervention -- which, of course, right-wing reaction may nevertheless provoke should the imperialists' intervention of a political and economic character continue unabated to the point where it actually controls the vital arteries of the regime itself.

Notwithstanding all this, it is possible for the regime to extricate itself by making a bold turn to the socialist alternative in rebuilding the economy rather than once again going through the travail of constantly reorganizing the apparatus of the party and the government in a blind search for solutions.

The latter can give, at best, only temporary reprieve and more frequently, as the past two-and-a-half decades have shown, merely strengthens the bourgeois sector of the economy, eats away at the vitals of the socialist economy, destroys the class consciousness of the workers, and makes them ready objects of manipulation by bourgeois elements at home who are in alliance with the imperialists abroad.

The former may be a slower process and entail sacrifices by the bourgeois intelligentsia, the petty-bourgeois tradesmen and merchants, and the rural bourgeoisie. They are the ones who have grown rich off the high prices for meat and other foods that are the direct result of decollectivization and the restoration of bourgeois agriculture.

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