Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Polish mass movement pushes party toward reform

First Published: Unity, Vol. 4, No. 11, June 19-July 2, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Soviet Union has always relied on the Eastern European ruling parties to keep the Warsaw Pact countries loyal to Moscow. In Poland, the Soviets have counted on the Polish United Workers Party to keep the lid on the popular movement: the Polish party is Moscow’s last hope for a political solution to the crisis in that country.

But the popular movement for democratic reform in Poland has had a big impact on the Polish party. The mass movement has forced numerous concessions from the party and the government and also given rise to a pro-reform trend within the party itself, which is calling for the party to be more responsive to the Polish people.

In mid-July, a special Congress of the Polish party will be convened. The Congress, the highest body of the party, is scheduled to elect a new central committee and politburo and adopt a new party program. Events surrounding the preparations for this Congress indicate there is a growing momentum for a “reform Congress,” and with it, the possibility of a widening rift between the Soviet and Polish parties.

Poles rebuff Moscow pressure

Desperate to avoid this scenario, the Soviet Union has stepped up its pressure on the Polish party. Over the last few weeks, official Soviet reports denouncing “anti-socialist elements” in Poland have grown more and more strident, and on June 5 the Soviet communist party central committee sent a letter to the Polish central committee, the sharpest public directive to the Polish party to date.

The letter stated that Moscow’s “friendly admonitions” to the Polish leaders to crack down on the popular movement have not been heeded and criticizes the Polish party for its “policy of concession and compromise.” As the Polish central committee met in Warsaw on June 9 and 10, Moscow openly fomented turmoil and demanded the overthrow of the current leadership.

The central committee meeting itself was evidently very stormy, with pro-Moscow hardliners and moderate reform elements breaking into shouting matches and stomping their feet. In the end, the central committee rejected Moscow’s demands to oust party head Kania, turning down by 89-24 a proposal for an individual vote of confidence for each polit-buro member. The actions of the central committee were clearly a rebuff to the Soviets and showed that while the leadership of the Polish party is badly split, the momentum is swinging toward reform and greater independence from Moscow.

Changes in the Polish party

In fact, the Polish party is in turmoil from the bottom to the top. Throughout the country, workers and pro-reform elements are voting old line party leaders out of office and are pushing through democratic reforms within the party itself.

It is estimated now that one-half of the party membership is in favor of reforms making the party more accountable to the Polish people. This sentiment is especially strong among the workers and young intellectuals. One-third of the party membership belongs to the independent trade union Solidarity; in Gdansk over three-quarters are Solidarity members.

Since early this year, reform elements within the party have been holding open elections at the local and regional levels, sweeping out many old-line officials.

Elections for some lower level party posts are now being conducted by secret ballot, so that pro-Moscow elements will not be able to influence the voting. The vast majority of the city committees have been changed. The heads of 30 out of 49 ’ regional party committees have been fired and nine others have lost in elections. While some of their successors are also pro-Moscow hard-liners, the trend has been towards the reformers.

Over the past two months, elections for regional delegates to the July party Congress were held. According to some estimates 90% of the elected delegates will be attending their first congress. Six to seven hundred out of a total of 1,700 are workers, more than twice the number in previous congresses. Under new election rules, each delegate must report back to his constituency regularly during the Congress, and if the workers don’t like the reports, they can recall the delegate.

The Soviets, predictably, are livid at the changes taking place inside the Polish party. Moscow’s view is that all the Eastern European parties should toe the Soviet line and that their chief loyalty must be to Moscow.

Conservative and pro-Moscow elements within the party are stepping up their own efforts to counter the tide of reform, but their influence seems to be declining. One group of pro-Moscow party members called the Katowice Forum issued a very strongly worded denunciation of the reform process in late May and agitated against the draft party program being circulated for the Congress. But while the Soviets praised the Katowice Forum statement, it was condemned throughout Poland, even by moderate party leaders. Local activists have reported that members of the forum would lose an election for dog catcher in Katowice itself.

How these different forces will come together at the July Congress remains to be seen. Even among the reform trend there are differences over what reforms are appropriate, how far the reform process should go and how fast. Some believe the process should be more gradual so as not to provoke a confrontation with the Soviets that could result in military intervention. Others, however, believe that a strong reform movement and a party responsive to Poland’s people would actually strengthen Poland’s hand against the Soviets and make it more difficult for them to invade. Either way, the outcome of the Congress and the Soviet Union’s response will have a big effect on Poland’s future.