Poland: Behind the Crisis (1982) : Imperialist Intervention in Papal Garb

Imperialist Intervention in Papal Garb

JUNE 6, 1979

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland on such an extended tour can only be regarded as a most blatant form of imperialist intervention by the papacy on behalf of world finance capital. The fact that the Polish government extended the invitation does not change this characterization to any measurable degree. It only indicates the difficult situation of the Polish government in general and of the Gierek leadership in particular.

Progressives throughout the world, the anti-imperialist movement in general, and the working class as a whole ought not to be thrown off balance by the seeming anomaly of the ideological spearhead of the international bourgeoisie being given free rein to preach anti-communism in a citadel of the socialist world. The anomaly can best be understood not only in the light of the general political situation in Poland today, but in its correct historical perspective.


Contemporary Poland more than any other country in Europe, save for Yugoslavia, is the product of international conditions. More specifically, it is the result of the effects of the Second World War and the postwar struggle between imperialism on the one hand and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other.

As a result of the bitter and unrestrained struggle that Allied imperialism put up at the end of the Second World War to bring Poland within the imperialist camp, an extraordinary historic compromise arose after what appeared to be, in its initial stages, the full-scale socialist transformation of Poland.

The term "historic compromise," as used in this context, should not be confused with the so-called historic compromise entered into by the Berlinguer & Co. of the Italian Communist Party, nor in Britain by the Labour Party in the form of the Social Contract. This form of historic compromise, stripped of some of its vague rhetoric, is nothing more than a screen to cover a full retreat launched by the Italian CP and the British Labour Party and gives full rein to an assault against the living standards of the working class. The fruits of this we have already seen in the victory of the new rightist government in Britain headed by Margaret Thatcher. In Italy, the steady retreat of the PCI before the assault of big capital has resulted in substantial losses, not merely of an electoral character, but involving widespread disenchantment and disillusionment of vast sections of the militant working class, students, and intellectuals.


The historic compromise of which contemporary Poland is the product was conceived more in the nature of a sharing of power among the proletariat, sections of the peasantry, and so-called patriotic elements of the bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the general bourgeois opposition often clandestinely represented by the Catholic hierarchy, on the other. Thus, from the point of view of the internal class forces, the historic compromise was to be a real one, not just a sharing of offices or ministerial posts. However, the military, police, and administrative control were to be vested in the state as represented by the United Workers (Communist) Party and its allies. On the basis of this constellation of class forces arose the term "people's democracy" for which Poland was regarded as the fundamental model.

The long, bitter, and often extremely confusing debate in the international communist press, particularly in Eastern Europe, over the meaning and significance of "people's democracy" was a deeply concealed struggle over how and through what forms the sharing of actual power could be established on a more or less durable basis. Consciously or unconsciously, this was the basic issue. Above all, the question was how to maintain the equilibrium, at least for a period of time, between the hostile class forces.

The whole concept of people's democracy, however, was predicated on the assumption that a stable, peaceful period would prevail for a more or less extended period based on an accommodation of "live and let live" between imperialism and the USSR with its socialist allies.

The political and theoretical premises for such a projection were that the postwar needs for capitalist reconstruction in the West were so urgent and the working class movement in such a militant spirit as to keep the imperialists busy at home, so to speak, for a considerable period. This, however, was a miscalculation.


Notwithstanding all the attempts by the Soviet government to reach a variety of agreements with the West in pursuit of a stable, peaceful equilibrium between West and East, the imperialists under the aegis of the U.S. ruling class soon launched a series of coldly calculated, hostile moves which showed that they had no intention whatever of abiding by any "live and let live" formula. Even before the Truman administration proclaimed the Marshall Plan, they unfurled the counter-revolutionary banner of "liberation" for Eastern Europe, and the Cold War was in full swing.

It is in this historical context that present-day Poland has to be viewed. The historic compromise was based both on the relation of hostile classes within Poland and, in its external features, on a compromise among the Soviet Union, its socialist allies, and imperialism on a world scale. No understanding of present-day Poland is possible unless this central fact is first taken into account.

The bourgeois press has spilled tons and tons of ink in praise of Polish nationalism, as they put it, and on the struggle for Polish identity, etc., etc. But most of the talk in the West about Polish nationalism has been by and large a code- word for anti-Soviet, pro-imperialist, and pro-bourgeois sentiment cultivated by the world bourgeoisie. There is little mention here of the nationalism which seeks to identify the Polish nation with a thorough-going revolutionary struggle for a new social system free from the feudal and capitalist past.


In the 35 years of existence of the Polish government, there have been four distinct phases of development which explain its present precarious and unstable situation.

The first period lasted from the liberation of Poland by the Red Army in 1944 to the consolidation of the socialist government in 1947, the second ended in 1956 with the Poznan uprising and the fall of the Bierut government; the third lasted from the accession of the Gomulka government in 1956 until Gomulka's resignation after the 1970 Gdansk rebellion; and the fourth phase has been that of the present Gierek government.

The first phase covered the destruction of the forces of the Nazi invaders and the overturn of the old regime.

The social and political overturn in Poland was not the result of a socialist revolution such as took place in the Soviet Union, China, or Cuba. It was mainly the result of the revolutionary intervention of the Soviet Red Army. This was in part necessitated by the fact that the U.S. and the British were busy, especially after the victory at Stalingrad, trying to set up a government in Poland of their own choosing. This was their "contribution" to the war effort. It was the beginning of the long and as yet unfinished struggle of world finance capital for the control of Poland by use of downright reactionaries, landlords, and the clerical bureaucracy.

This phase ended in 1947. With the assistance of the indigenous revolutionary movement and vigorous support of the Soviet Red Army, the new government was set up following a general election which brought a huge majority to the supporters of the Polish United Workers Party and its progressive allies.

In its overall physiognomy, the social transformation was basically of a military-bureaucratic character and did not fully release the healthy, revolutionary creative initiative of the masses in a life-and-death struggle with the bourgeoisie, the landlords, and their allies. Instead, the first phase in the development of the new Poland ended not with crushing the old possessing classes and smashing the old state apparatus, but rather for the most part it contained the hostile class forces while enacting legislation which dispossessed at least in legal terms the old privileged classes in bourgeois Poland.

It was assumed that the class struggle would die out as a result of administrative measures and the education that comes with socialist reconstruction.


The fury let loose by the Cold War, engineered by the U.S., kept alive all the old and decadent remnants of the ruling classes and sustained the Catholic hierarchy and its vast support both inside and outside Poland. The nourishment that the so-called revitalized church gets in Poland is preponderantly from foreign sources, not only coming through the Vatican as a political instrument, but from finance capitalism which funnels and supports Vatican activities in Poland.

Throughout the entire period of the Cold War, and particularly during its most difficult days, Poland was a target of imperialism far more than any of the other East European countries. As the Cold War wore on, the equilibrium of class forces in Poland became more unstable and socialist construction more difficult Poland was never proclaimed a dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry, and the broad masses were never rallied under such slogans and with such an objective. Instead the state structure established in 1947 was made official in 1952 with the promulgation of a constitution making Poland a "people's democracy."

The strict limits of "people's democracy" constrained the revolutionary energies of the masses while the hostile forces took nourishment from the unstable situation, even as they were repressed politically. Poland was becoming more and more a halfway house, a house divided between right and left, a house where on one side were all those who genuinely supported the socialist aspirations of the government, and on the other a motley crew of old-line bureaucrats inherited from the Polish past -- opportunists who gave lip service to the cause of socialism -- and the clerical bureaucracy which represented the general bourgeois opposition.

Such a situation could not exist for long. The historic compromise proved itself to be unviable as a transition stage to a socialist transformation of society.


It is one thing for a proletarian dictatorship to grant certain privileges as a concession to bourgeois layers of society, or to make limited economic reforms in a bourgeois direction in the interests of rapid socialist construction. It is another matter entirely if the whole conception of state power is based on a historic compromise, that is, on hostile classes sharing power on a durable basis. There is no precedent in socialist history for such a development.

Even broad concessions made to bourgeois elements by some of the socialist countries and the continuation and widening of a capitalist market economy hold untold dangers for the existence of a socialist state.

By contrast, the bourgeoisie in its struggle against the feudal lords was able in England, for example, to carry through its revolution by making historic compromises and sharing power with the landlords. But the difference between their historic compromise and the one in Poland is that the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy had the common bond of both being property-owning classes and both being hostile to the interests of the working class. But a workers' government which embarks upon a historic compromise with the bourgeoisie is of necessity confronted with antagonistic, not common, class interests. One or the other is bound to conquer.


Thus, the Bierut government fell in 1956 at the time of the first Polish rebellion which, incidentally, came on the heels of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin and the confusion and panic which that caused in the Communist parties, particularly in Eastern Europe. But that, however, was merely the symptom. The real cause of the 1956 uprising at Poznan lay in the nature of the historic compromise and the consequent inability of the socialist government to properly deal with economic issues in the face of the demagogic opposition of the Catholic hierarchy and the bourgeois intelligentsia.

The Poznan uprising ended the second phase of contemporary Polish history. With it ended the collectivization of farming and the return to a virtually bourgeois economy in the sphere of agriculture. There was also an enormous increase in so-called independent producers, petty-bourgeois craftsmen and traders, who now began to feel their oats with the accession of the Gomulka regime. The latter, however, did not go as far to the right as originally was thought in the tumultuous days of the late 1950s. He tried to contain hostile class forces while extending more concessions, so-called incentives, of a bourgeois character in the field of industry and trade.


There is no point in demeaning Gomulka as a Communist, or playing him up as a nationalist, as the bourgeois press did. The truth of the matter is that he, like his predecessor, was a prisoner of a state structure that was inherently utopian since it was based on antagonistic classes.

Rapid industrialization, development of industry, transport, and technology does not bring socialism or even ameliorate the living conditions of the masses. Given the contradictory character of the state structure, given the assumption of the coexistence of hostile classes within the framework of a socialist state and a hostile political opposition catering to the needs of the bourgeoisie, no smooth path to socialism can ever be achieved. The political struggle of the classes in Poland dominates over the needs of society as a whole, particularly over the need to move in a socialist direction.

A workers' and peasants' government may also be said to be a contradictory phenomenon. Lenin many times pointed out that the peasantry as a class was concerned with individual private property, while the proletariat is the only class that is consistently revolutionary and socialist to the end. The proletariat is based upon industry, and the more developed industry is, the greater the weight of the proletariat and the greater the tendency towards socialism.

The peasantry plays a progressive and revolutionary role when it accepts the leadership of the proletariat in the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the landlords, when it accepts the proletariat as the leading force in the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

Of particular importance in relation to Poland is the general fact that the peasantry slowly begins to cease to be a peasantry the more it accepts collectivization, which harmonizes its interests with the socialist perspectives of the proletariat. Decollectivization in Poland, as happened after the 1956 rebellion objectively propels the peasantry into opposition to the proletariat and into the arms of the bourgeoisie. It makes the peasants the prey of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which champions bourgeois agriculture against the socialist economy in general -- and the more primitive, the better for the church.


The church hierarchy is irreconcilably opposed to socialism. It is in reality an intensely political organization and an agent of the "free enterprise" system. It has been the friend and defender of the possessing classes as a whole for nearly two thousand years.

That is its religion. All else is hypocrisy and a deception of the masses.

Not having dealt with the church as a political in the first place made it all the harder for each new succeeding Polish government to deal with the hierarchy. Each new concession the hierarchy won emboldened it and strengthened the general bourgeois opposition.

Under the guise of religion, fundamental property rights are being fought for and the rights of bourgeois property are being defended ever more vigorously in the struggle against socialism.

Hasn't religion always served as a cover for this or that ruling class, for this or that propertied class? Where is there a church hierarchy that has not befriended the landlord, the manufacturer, the militarist, the judge, the executioner, and the prison guard? The revival of the church in Poland is a religious disguise for the general bourgeois opposition. This is what has to be understood first and foremost.

The Gomulka regime made strong headway in heavy industry and consumer goods, and in general uplifted the standard of living of the masses. But the existence of hostile classes, for the most part disguised in clerical garb, cultivated the opposition, gave it sustenance and guidance.


Bureaucratic mismanagement and inefficiency along with infiltration into a large part of the state apparatus by elements that are thoroughly bourgeois in their outlook is not an inconsiderable element in the ever-expanding difficulties of the succeeding Polish governments. Thus, the Gomulka regime was eventually overthrown by a new rising of workers in the port city of Gdansk.

It would be difficult for anyone with the least amount of sensibilities not to have sympathized with the workers. Yet the fundamental cause of it is due to the original scheme of setting up an unviable state structure in the name of socialism a state which cannot consistently lead the economy in a thorough-going socialist direction.

Between it and the workers stand layers upon layers of bureaucratized civil servants, managers, and technicians, whose conception of socialism is not based on the principle that the working class is the agent for the transformation of society, nor that it is the leading class in constructing a socialist society, nor that power should rest with the workers in alliance with the poorer sections of the peasantry.

Indeed, they regard the workers more in the nature of a category of bourgeois economics. The workers are dealt with from a technocratic and not from a revolutionary Marxist viewpoint, not from the point of view of socialist direction via the class struggle but from the viewpoint of harmonizing all elements of society in the same way as one would the parts of a machine.

From the viewpoint of the technocrat, the machine was functioning well. Poland was moving ahead industrially and technologically -- until the Gdansk workers reminded them that Polish society is not a machine, it is a society divided into classes.

The fact that the present first secretary of the party had to be reminded of this again in a none too polite way, as was his predecessor, by another workers' rebellion in 1976 shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is something vitally and fundamentally wrong in the Polish socialist system.

At this stage it would be pure speculation to say what might have been had genuine Marxist-Leninist tactics been employed. But so far as the results are concerned, it was a shift in the direction of bourgeois pragmatic practices. And in the field of theory, it was a detour into experimental bourgeois sociology.


The invitation extended to the Pope to preach anti-communism in a citadel of socialism is an abject confession of the failure of a fundamental policy. It's not just inefficiency, it's not just mismanagement, it's not the religious sentiment of the masses. It's not that the Polish people are more religious than others.

It's that Poland is a halfway society, and it has given free rein to the bourgeois opposition in the guise of religious freedom. 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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