First Published: The Forge, Vol. 5, No. 40, November 21, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Recent Forge articles criticizing the Communist Party of Canada’s open support for the strike-bound Polish regime have obviously struck a raw nerve, since the CPC decided to answer the criticisms directly.
None other than CPC central committee member Alfred Dewhurst rushed forward to defend “democracy” in Poland in his theoretical column in the November 10 Canadian Tribune. Dewhurst claims that the WCP’s characterization of the Polish state as fascist and its solidarity with the Polish strikers shows that the WCP “is neither Marxist nor Leninist.”
Dewhurst bases much of his argument on the definition of fascism given by Communist International leader Georgi Dimitrov in 1935: “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital.” Since, in his eyes, Poland has no capitalists, no repression and no expansionary policies, the Forge articles on Poland are “slander.”
But a close look at how Dimitrov’s definition applies to Poland today shows who really displays “woeful ignorance” of Marxism and Leninism.
Dewhurst denies Poland is ruled by a small clique of reactionary capitalists. He insists that “industrial production... is state-owned in the name of the Polish working people.”
But scientific analysis requires a look behind the names and appearances of things to discover the reality of class relations. Marx once wrote that property is not “an independent relation, an abstract idea”; he noted that “to define bourgeois property” we must examine “all the social relations.” (Poverty of Philosophy, Foreign Languages Press, p. 147-48)
Poland, once socialist, has been a state capitalist country for the past 20 years. It is ruled by a new bourgeoisie, made up of a handful of bureaucrats who run the so-called workers’ party, the government super-ministries, the banks and state factories. Like capitalists in any other country, this state bureaucratic capitalist class has the power to determine the conditions under which Polish workers are exploited.
They can hire or fire workers, they decide on the division of work bonuses, the rhythm of production, etc. In the past, their control over the state has allowed them to institute arbitrary price increases.
Anger against this power of the bosses was one of the major causes of the recent strike wave. The Silesia miners, for example, won the reinstatement of Saturday days-off which their employers had wiped out in recent years.
The wealth accumulated by the Polish capitalists allows them to live a life of luxury and enjoy systematic privileges. This has been a special target of the workers’ revolt. While working families line up to buy fresh meat, the new ruling class can shop at well-stocked stores supposedly reserved for foreigners.
Last September, the head of state television Szcenanski, a member of the party central committee, was ousted from his post amidst scandal: he was found to have 10 luxurious homes, a private island in the Mediterranean and several foreign bank accounts, including one in London containing $1 million.
The Polish elite also benefits from the wide salary gap between them and ordinary workers. In 1970, for instance, a director at the Gdansk shipyards was reported to be earning a minimum of 170,000 Polish zlotys a year, compared to the workers’ average earnings of 31,000.
Dewhurst may try to pass these off as isolated cases of corruption, but they are striking testimony of capitalist decadence flourishing in his “socialist” paradise.
Dewhurst’s insistence that industry in Poland is formally under state control does not contradict the existence of a bourgeoisie. In Canada, Petrocan and provincial hydro companies are “state-owned” in the name of the public, but the men who run them are just as much capitalists as the bosses at Imperial Oil or Stelco.
Marx himself noted how the form of state property often hides the very real existence of capitalist exploitation: “As long as the rich classes are in power, all nationalization does not represent the suppression of exploitation, but only a modification of its form.”
The CPC also points to the fact that the recent strike wave was not met with police repression, but a government change – a supposed tribute to Polish “democracy.” This is like saying the Shah fled Iran because he had the interests of the Iranian people at heart!
In truth it was the stunning force of millions of determined workers paralyzing the entire country which obliged Poland’s dictators to give in to the people’s demands.
Mr. Dewhurst obviously suffers from a short memory. When hundreds of workers struck against the Gomulka regime in the Baltic ports in 1970, they were ruthlessly gunned down and killed. The exact number of victims of this fascist terror is not known – for the simple reason that the authorities took away the bodies in plastic bags and buried them secretly. (This was revealed by Gdansk workers when they met with the Gierek government in 1971).
When new protests broke out against price increases in 1976, hundreds of workers were fired, imprisoned and beaten up by the police. Two years later, workers at the Nowa Huta were circulating a petition in defence of an engineer who had been fired because of his support for the imprisoned workers. In a revealing statement, party central committee spokesman Josef Nowotny bluntly told the petitioners just how un-free they were: “All you have the right to sign is your pay check... for everything else, you have to ask first to see if you have the right.” (Quoted in Robotnik (The Worker), a Polish clandestine newspaper.)
Poland may be a free country for Dewhurst, but it is not free for the political prisoners: one of the main demands of the Gdansk strikers last summer was the liberation of numerous activists jailed for their beliefs.
Nor is Poland free for the victims of its secret police and of its censorship. All these and other forms of fascist dictatorship may spell “democracy” in Dewhurst’s book of apologies, but few working people would read it the same way.
Dewhurst dismisses another of Dimitrov’s characteristics of fascism – an imperialist foreign policy – as irrelevant to Poland which has made no territorial annexations.
But Poland, while suffering from Soviet domination, is also an active member of the Kremlin’s military alliance, the Warsaw Pact. The Polish army thus joined in with the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Polish government has also supported the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea, and similar expansionist adventures of the Soviet empire.
Moreover, Dewhurst deforms and dogmatically narrows Dimitrov’s analysis. In the 1930s, not every single fascist country engaged in outright annexations. Dimitrov’s own country, Bulgaria, and Franco’s Spain were no less fascist simply because they were not expansionist; both were active supporters of Nazi expansionism.
When we analyze the “economic and social foundations upon which rests the Polish state and system” as Dewhurst demands, we find that in essence Poland does correspond to Dimitrov’s definition of fascism: a state controlled by the reactionary Polish bourgeoisie, a state which practises terrorist repression against workers, a state which supports and is part of the Soviet expansionist military machine.
It is the CPC, and not the WCP, which distorts Marxism-Leninism to hide the essence of reality.
If Mr. Dewhurst had bothered to read Dimitrov more closely, he would have seen this important passage in his famous 1935 speech: “The development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national pecularities and the international position of the given country.” (The United Front, Proletarian Publishers, p. 11; emphasis in original).
What we see in Poland today is precisely one of these “different forms” that fascism has taken today. Dimitrov himself noted that fascists may “represent themselves to the masses as ’Socialists’ and depict their accession to power as a ’revolution’.”
Fascism in Poland arose from the specific historical and economic conditions created by the restoration of capitalism in a number of countries that had once been socialist. This is why we call such countries, like the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, social-fascist – socialist in words, but fascist in deed.
It is not hard to figure out why Dewhurst and the CPC get so upset over the Polish question. Umasking the nature of Polish or Sovlet-style “socialism” hits right at the heart of the CPC’s program. These are the models the CPC holds up for Canadian workers to follow.
Canadians do not want or need socialism “in name” only, much less a “Communist” Party which spends Its time apologizing for repressive anti-worker regimes.