Poland: Behind the Crisis (1982) : Fundamental Causes of the Polish Crisis Part 3

Fundamental Causes of the Polish Crisis
Part 3

SEPTEMBER 10, 1980

Now that the strikes are over and the Polish government has agreed to the demands of the workers it is possible to draw some tentative conclusions which flow from the unprecedented social and political crisis which has yet to be fully resolved.

No capitalist government could have agreed to such sweeping demands of the workers without the use of threats against the workers and without a show of force.

As it turned out, the Polish government and the party saw fit to avoid such a catastrophic confrontation. There was no use of the police, no mobilization of the militia, and no threats to use military force. And, of course, there never was any chance for the constantly predicted threat of "Soviet intervention" which the imperialist press harped upon.

Only when it became obvious that the strike was over and the cheering in the imperialist camp from Copenhagen to Tokyo began to die down did the New York Times on September 10, 1980, reveal that a Polish CP official said "There was no worry of Soviet intervention." Further, he said, the possibility of Soviet intervention could only come "if Poland abandoned the socialist system or if Poland went out of the Warsaw Pact." Neither condition was possible, he added.

On the matter of the immediate cause of the crisis this party official, alluding to the raising of meat prices, noted that the Soviet Union "had advised Warsaw in 1976 against raising meat prices, implying that the Russians had taken the same line this summer [on the meat price rises]." The Times added that "higher meat prices touched off protests four years ago and also provoked the recent strikes."

The Times neglected to restate that it was the utterly incredible demands of the Western bankers for austerity and belt-tightening at the Warsaw meeting last June which was the principal immediate cause of the strikes.


Both the Polish party and the government, after a period of great vacillation and confusion, finally saw fit to grant all of the demands of the workers as the only secure exit from the utterly untenable situation in which the government found itself and for which it alone, in the final analysis, must bear full responsibility.

The government granted the sweeping demands only because it is, after all, a socialist government. If it is to function with any degree of stability it has to have, unlike a capitalist government, not only the support but the confidence of the working class.

This we indicated in an earlier installment. The government and the party had to try to win back the confidence of the workers, which it had obviously lost (if it ever had much of it in the first place), at almost "any cost" including political concessions of a risky character.

Unquestionably the workers have won wholly justifiable and substantial economic and social gains. In the context of present-day Poland, however, it also set back the clock of socialism.


The legal validation of the so-called independent unions should not in and of itself pose a political challenge to a socialist government. If these unions are truly free and independent -- free that is, from bourgeois influence, free of entanglements with the Western trade union leaders who act as conduits for imperialist finance capital, as well as being free from bureaucratic regimentation-they can within time become the firm foundation for a truly socialist government.

As matters stand, however, what the workers have gained economically and socially is at the cost of legitimatizing a bourgeois opposition not merely to the present leadership of the government and the party, but to socialism in general.

This is so despite all the protestations to the contrary by the bourgeois dissidents who have now become the staunch allies and mentors of the strike leaders. This is what the imperialist bourgeoisie so well recognizes. This is why the press of finance capital on a world scale from Copenhagen to Tokyo has cheered the Polish strikers.


An independent federation of Polish workers which is merely apolitical in character or composed of workers whose class consciousness is as yet inadequate for the task of socialist construction would not necessarily have to be on a collision course with the government. On the contrary, alertness, close contact, and dedication to the cause of the workers will facilitate the redress of grievances and the more or less autonomous existence of the federation within the framework of the socialist state and will not necessarily be a formidable obstacle to socialist construction. It really all depends on the degree of socialist consciousness, dedication, and self-sacrifice of the party and the state officialdom.

It is something altogether different if these independent unions orient in the direction of a bourgeois political party, whether it be in the form of a labor party or a Christian Democratic party. Whatever its name may be, such a development can, of course, pose a staggering political problem for the socialist future of Poland. For one thing, Poland would then have not only a private (bourgeois) sector in agriculture, but one also in industry and this would endanger the very social foundations of the Polish People's Republic.

It is true, of course, that at the time of the strike agreement, the strike leaders obligated themselves not to form a political party. But the character of the present leadership, its alliance with the Catholic hierarchy and the bourgeois intelligentsia, and its strong contacts with the imperialist West, make this obligation by the strike leaders of a dubious character. In reality the strike itself has pushed all the bourgeois elements forward and they are now springing into life all over the country.

Nevertheless, the government is far from lacking in options for regaining influence among the masses, revitalizing the economy, and turning the political situation around. It all depends on the orientation of the leadership from now on.


As we have said on many occasions, Poland can only be called a socialist country in a very narrow and sociological sense. The basic means of production and limited centralized planning are in the hands of the government. To that extent only can the government be called socialist.

Poland, however, is a half-way house. Aside from the small state sector in agriculture, capitalist farming prevails throughout Poland. It has been getting steady, consistent, and ever-larger infusions of subsidies from the government, that is from the hides of the workers. This is true even though it is widely recognized that small private farming is inefficient and largely responsible for the poor state of food production in Poland.

Even Secretary of State Edmund Muskie in an interview on CBS's Face the Nation on September 7, 1980, said that the farms in Poland, which are 10 acres or less, "are inefficient." A friend of agribusiness in this country, Muskie knows that it is only the huge farms which can mass produce and employ the most modern technology to create an abundant food supply.

Yet by continuing to subsidize the small plots of privately owned farms, the government has not only helped to strengthen bourgeois influence and ideology, it has created the basis for the series of food crises in Poland.

The abandonment of collectivization as a result of the 1956 uprising has widened the sphere of bourgeois influence in the economic life of the country far beyond the countryside and into the cities where more than 200,000 so-called independent entrepreneurs operate on a free enterprise basis and swallow up no meager share of the national income.

All the rebellions beginning with the 1956 uprising up until the present, regardless of the legitimate character of the grievances, have led to abandoning socialist forms of production in favor of decentralized and market economy (bourgeois) practices.

(Decentralization in and of itself is not necessarily destructive of socialist planning if the decentralization strengthens workers' democracy, cuts down on bureaucratic practices, and helps in the execution of an overall socialist plan for the nation. Where decentralization is harmful and destructive is where those decentralized units become virtually autonomous and even worse, are permitted to deal with the foreign imperialist monopolies unilaterally.)


If so-called free unions now come under the domination of elements hostile to socialism, it may very well speed up the ultimate crisis in Poland. In this crisis the government will have to choose either to try to reconstruct the economy in accordance with the original socialist objectives it was pledged to promote or be pulled altogether into the orbit of imperialist finance capital as a result of the chronic economic crises which arise from the continual concessions given to the bourgeois elements since 1956.

The admission by the Polish Finance Minister that the government is indebted to the Western imperialist banks by more than $20 billion is alarming in itself. But what is even more alarming is the government's failure to truthfully explain how such an enormous debt could be piled up in such a short time, mostly from the mid-1970s.

The stock answer from the government is that they were trying to industrialize the country too rapidly and invested too much in capital construction. They do not explain, of course, why the imperialist banks were so eager to advance such huge sums of money to socialist Poland while these very same banks are so vehemently opposed not only to advancing money but even to diplomatically recognizing such socialist countries as Cuba, Viet Nam, Ethiopia, Kampuchea, Angola, or north Korea.

True, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia have also been advanced loans, but certainly nowhere to the extent of those advanced to Poland.

Why the almost reckless lending on the part of the imperialists to Poland, more than any other socialist country. Is it because it is such an attractive economic prospect? Or is it because it is a politically motivated, coordinated endeavor by the imperialist banks to strengthen the private, that is, the bourgeois, economic sector in Poland and to weaken the nationalized socialist sector by making it excessively dependent on exports to the imperialist countries and thereby bring Poland into the imperialist orbit altogether?

After all, is not $20 billion of investment on the part of even the most powerful banking syndicates in such a relatively small, industrialized country, which has neither oil, uranium, nor natural gas but an abundance of coal and other resources and a firm socialist government, an extravagant and speculative venture by the imperialists?


The answer to the question lies in the political motivation of the imperialist governments that are controlled by the banks and the military-industrial complex. The latter have long seen Poland as the most vulnerable area in the struggle against the socialist countries. A "cold" victory against Poland, that is, a victory by the slower but nonetheless equally deadly process of economic penetration, could eventually turn into a greater victory than one won by imperialist armed intervention.

The risk, of course, to the imperialists is great. But their method of slow, "peaceful" subjugation is nonetheless an irresistible temptation to them. Whether the Soviet Union can ever permit imperialist penetration to result in economic and political control by the imperialists of its key, fraternal socialist ally on its border is another matter.

It is not the indebtedness as such which is significant or the solicitation of loans and credit as a basis for normal trade relations which is significant. The U.S. was for many decades a debtor nation and solicited loans and credit from the European capital markets for a long time before it became the predominant imperialist power. It was never, however, the target of a hostile capitalist world intent on undermining its social order, as is the case with the socialist countries, particularly Poland.


Were there any really progressive elements in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, where there are endless investigations on matters of urgent international significance, they would certainly embark upon an investigation of the banks and seek out and expose the real threads which the banks hold in Poland. Certainly, in order to advance such tremendous sums of money over such a short period of time for no apparent good risk or reason, much bribery had to be advanced à la Lockheed and other scandalous and shady deals.

A real investigation of the banks and what they were doing in Poland would be most revealing. Witness the title of an article in Fortune magazine (September 22, 1980) on Poland: "What the bankers did to Poland." As a result of the banks' concerns, the article says, "Poland has ended up like a less-developed country selling pork bellies, ham, potatoes and coal."

The article was not meant to be an indictment of the banks but rather a boast of their accomplishments.


It is, of course, even more fitting for the new leadership in Poland to open up a real public investigation as to how and why such a big debt was piled up in such a short time and who gained by it.

One of the questions that should be answered is how did it happen that Bank Handlowy, Poland's leading international financial institution, replaced its chairman, president, and many of its top operating officers in August 1979. Was it, as the New York Times of August 14, 1979, claims, to improve its "image in world [imperialist] banking circles"? Or was it because they refused to make available so-called financial data to Western bankers never previously released? In other words, was it because they refused to submit Poland's national budget to the approval of U.S. bankers or because they saw the danger of being swallowed by the imperialist banks?

The banks advanced money for rapid industrialization, but industrialization in and of itself does not advance socialism or promote a higher standard of living for the masses, as workers in the capitalist countries know very well. The industrialization must be based on the concept of socialist construction with the view of meeting the most urgent needs of the masses.

This is not what the bankers advanced the money for. A thorough investigation by a truly independent commission including representatives from fraternal socialist countries to go into the details of how such vast sums of money could be borrowed, extended, and used for what purposes would be a form of enlightenment for all concerned.

It would reveal that the period when these extravagant loans were made is precisely the period when the imperialist governments warmed up to the Polish government and began to see it, as former President Gerald Ford did, as an independent country."


It is extremely interesting to note the attitude which the Polish government and party is taking toward the critical question of declaring a debt moratorium.

It now turns out that Deputy Prime Minister Henryk Kisiel was specifically asked whether any such step was contemplated and replied that the government does not seek a moratorium on its debt. In fact, he is quoted as saying that the debts would be paid "with the precision of a Swiss watch." (New York Times, September 9, 1980.)

However, Zigmunt Szeliga, deputy editor of the Polish weekly Polityki and an economist, said, "There is no question of declaring bankruptcy. Poland is a big country with big resources and wants to act seriously. " However, he added, "But postponing repayment may become the wisest course."

This signifies that the question of declaring a moratorium and indeed the whole question of the indebtedness to the imperialist banks is the pivotal issue in the as yet undisclosed struggle between the more progressive, anti-imperialist oriented leaders in both the government and the party as against the conciliators.

The perennial so-called economic reforms since 1956 were in reality a partial restructuring of the Polish economy along bourgeois lines. These so-called reforms put the socialist sector in ever-greater jeopardy until the banks could finally proclaim, as they did as long ago as January 26, 1979, in an astonishing article in the New York Times, that the bankers can now control the Polish economy.

There can be no resolution of the deep-seated crisis which has been wracking the Polish economy until the spotlight is turned on the real cause of the crisis.

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