First Published: Theoretical Review No. 19, November-December 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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It is not enough to denounce and condemn, even with the greatest good will, the ’errors and distortions’ of the Stalin period; it is not enough even to make changes, if these changes are only superficial, and do not tackle the root of the problems. –Wlodzimierz Brus, a leading Polish economist, 1971
Recent events in Poland have once again drawn the attention of the world to Eastern Europe, where the class struggle has erupted in a manner which leaves no doubt as to the power and militancy of the workingclass in Polish society. The fact that a class struggle of this intensity and political purpose has occurred, not in the crisis-ridden countries of Western Europe, but in a socialist country, Poland, requires the most careful study. These events pose in the sharpest possible manner the question of the nature of Polish society and the question of the character of socialism in Eastern Europe.
Posing this question is not some academic exercise. At stake here is not just the issue of revolution and socialist construction in the world today, but basic political questions about workingclass struggle under socialism, its organization and consciousness. A correct understanding of problems of party/trade union relations in Poland implies definite conclusions about communist activity here in the United States, just as the international struggle against revisionism cannot be separated from the struggle for revolutionary socialism in the United States.
The current class struggle in Poland marks an historic landmark in the development of its workingclass. Polish society is in crisis, yet the state-party-trade union apparatus has demonstrated its inability to resolve the growing social contradictions in favor of the workingclass and socialism. In the face of this situation the workingclass has reasserted its vanguard role in defense of its own interests and against the abuses and corruption of the state system. The purpose of this article is to provide an historical, theoretical and political basis for a better understanding of the recent Polish events. We will begin with a brief chronology of the recent strike struggles followed by some historical notes on the development of Poland and Polish socialism. Then, starting with a theoretical framework, we will examine contemporary Polish society and its social (class) conditions. Next the article will examine the Polish workingclass struggle today and offer some observations on the political significance of the recent strikes. Finally, in an appendix we will conclude with some thoughts on the significance of Polish events for the US communist movement.
On July 1st the Polish government announced price increases of 70-100% on a significant portion of the meat supply. This announcement, coupled with already serious economic difficulties, rationing and long lines at the shops, was the spark which ignited serious unrest. Within the week, strikes broke out in the Baltic ship-building region and elsewhere. Workers demanded higher wages and the rescission of the price increases, as well as recently imposed productivity norms. This first wave of strikes was ended only when the workers were granted wage increases of 7-10% and the price increases were temporarily cancelled.
When the government tried to reintroduce the price increases on July 8th, a second strike wave was unleashed throughout the country. Workers occupied factories, set up strike committees and issued strike bulletins. The strikes spread beyond the factories to railway workers and other transportation personnel. On August 14 the 16,000 workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk went on strike, soon after drawing in other factories in Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. At the Lenin Shipyard the workers established an Interfactory Strike Committee (MKS) and began to coordinate the strikes throughout the country as delegates began to pour in from every industry.
The MKS became the center of the struggle which continued to spread, even reaching the mining region of Silesia which had not participated in similar struggles in 1970-71 and 1976. In many cities the struggle developed into a general strike. In mid-August the MKS, representing more than 500 factories and some 200,000 workers, issued a list of 21 demands calling for independent trade unions, the right to strike, freedom of the press, speech and publication, and the release of political prisoners. Also demanded were the “availability of the media to representatives of all faiths,” wage increases tied to price rises, improved working conditions and day care centers for working mothers.
The strike was supported by a number of dissident Polish groups, the most influential of which is the Committee for Social Self-Defense (KSS), better known by its previous name, Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR), which publishes the newspaper, Robotnik (The Worker). Generally social democratic in orientation, its leadership consists of former members of the Communist party, socialists and left catholics.
The high degree of organization, consciousness and political determination of the strikers took the government by surprise. After first denouncing the strike leaders as “anti-socialist elements,” it was forced to admit that “the demands of the workers are justified.” Nonetheless it refused to accede to the workers demands and hinted that the Soviet Union might intervene if the 21 points were granted. Attempting to play on the religious sentiments of the masses it put Cardinal Wyszynski of the Catholic Church on television to urge the strikers to go back to work. Nothing seemed to help. At the same time that many party leaders were echoing the slanders of the Soviet press against the workers, Tadeusz Fiszbach, first secretary of the Gdansk party organization called the strike leaders “honest men” and argued that popular discontent was the result of “too much centralization of decision making,” “planning errors,” and “bureaucracy, especially in the unions.”
On August 31, faced with no other viable alternative, the government capitulated. The signing of the settlement agreement which recognized most of the MKS’s 21 demands, by Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski and Lech Walesa, chair of the Interfactory Strike Committee, was broadcast on national television. The government defeat necessitated a long overdue housecleaning in the Communist Party leadership. Edward Gierek, the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP), was replaced on September 6 by Stanislaw Kania, who promised to honor the settlement agreement. Ironically, Gierek himself had come to power in the same way, when the previous party leader, Wladyslaw Gomulka, had failed to prevent another workers uprising ten years earlier.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the present struggles, Poland stands on the eve of a new era. To fully understand its significance it is necessary to trace the historical processes which created the Polish workingclass and led it to dramatically challenge the very foundations of the Polish state.
The history of modern Poland is a history of class struggle, set in the context of a long and arduous struggle for national independence in the face of a host of stronger, and often hostile neighbors. As early as 1716 the first Polish republic fell under the control of its neighbor to the east, the Russian Empire, and Poland became an imperial protectorate.
In the wars of the 18th century between Russia, Prussia and Austria, Poland was often caught in the middle, with the result that it frequently found itself redivided at the wars’ end. The first partition of Polish territory among these powers was made in 1772, the second in 1793 and the third in 1795. In 1795 the last of the Polish lands was handed over to the great powers, with Russia controlling by far the larger part. The Polish republic disappeared, not to be reborn for 123 years.
Unsuccessful revolts against foreign domination, particularly the heavy hand of Tzardom, repeatedly occurred throughout the 19th century, most importantly in 1830-31 and 1863-64. Among the emigre circles who fled to the west after the defeat of these insurrections, the first seeds of Polish socialism were sown. A number of Poles took an active and leading role in the Paris Commune. One, Walery Wroblewski, who had been a leader of the Polish uprising of 1863-64, and a general in the Commune, later became a Polish delegate to the General Council of the First International and an active supporter of Marx and Engels.
The early Polish socialists were Utopian, agrarian and patriotic in outlook. Not that their patriotism was entirely misplaced; Marx himself had strongly supported a restored democratic Poland as a bulwark against Tzarist reaction. The development of scientific socialism, however, had to await the development of an industrial workingclass, which was not long in coming. Indeed, growing industrialization together with increased Russian repression, and the evolution of a section of urban intellectuals oriented toward socialism and nationalism, furthered the revolutionary process.
The first Polish trade union was established in 1870; the first socialist organization appeared in Warsaw at the same time. In 1882 the first socialist party, the “Proletariat,” was organized, but it was destroyed by the Russian police in 1886. In 1892 the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) was founded, taking its program from an adaptation to Polish conditions of the Erfurt Program of German Social Democracy. This was a decisive step forward, followed, however, by a split the next year which resulted in the formation of a rival group, the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland (SDKP), later renamed the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and of Lithuania (SDKPiL). The PPS was led by Josef Pilsudski; the SDKPiL by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Radek, and Adolf Warski. After the first world war Pilsudski abandoned socialism altogether, and, in 1926, he led a successful military coup which seized control of the Polish government, moving it in an increasingly reactionary, pro-fascist direction.
The major differences between these two groups, the PPS and the SDKPiL–their attitude toward Polish nationalism, and to a lesser extent, the peasant question–are important because they constantly reoccur in the history of Polish communism. The PPS demanded a free and independent socialist Poland, thereby seeking to combine the struggle for national independence with the socialist movement. On the peasant question it had a strong plank of agrarian demands.
The SDKPiL, on the other hand, opposed Polish independence and insisted that Polish nationalism of any kind could only result in the diversion of the workers from the goal of socialism. The party also paid scant attention to the peasantry.
As it is generally known, Lenin strongly opposed Rosa Luxemburg on the question of Polish independence, while at the same time criticizing the PPS for certain nationalist excesses. These differences could not be overcome and Polish socialism remained divided through the 1905 revolution and the first world war.
Both the second Polish republic and the Communist Party of Poland were born in the aftermath of the world war and the Russian revolution. On November 11, 1918 the Polish Republic was proclaimed, and on December 15th the SDKPiL and the PPS-Left merged to form the Communist Workers Party of Poland (CWPP).
Although the name was new, the perspective had not yet changed. The founders of the CWPP had objected to Lenin’s support for Polish independence, in spite of its great popularity among the people. They continued to follow the SDKPiL line on the national question, which now called for Polish integration with the new revolutionary Russia. At the 8th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in March, 1919, Lenin criticized the Polish Communists for their refusal to come to terms with the nationalist sentiments of the Polish masses. In words which ought not to be taken lightly he warned them against looking to the Red Army to bring socialism to their country. “Communism,” he told them, “cannot be imposed by force.”
The CWPP, dominated by an ultra-left line, chose to ignore this advice and continued its anti-national line. It seriously underestimated the degree of anti-Russian sentiments which had accumulated over the years in which Poland had been a Russian province. This became apparent when Polish communists supported Soviet troops during the Russian-Polish war of 1920-21, but were unable to rally the masses to their side. By the time the Party came to its senses, it was on the verge of collapse, having lost up to 80% of its membership in key workingclass centers. In 1921 at its Second Congress the Party changed its line to one of recognition and support for Polish independence, but the damage had already been done.
Throughout the 1920s the Party’s internal life was rent by factional in-fighting, which was increasingly exacerbated by the intervention of the Comintern and the Soviet Party. In 1924 Stalin had warned the Polish Communists that the Russian question was of “prime importance” for the international movement and any party would be judged by its attitude toward the struggle going on inside the CPSU(B). Since different factions in the CWPP aligned themselves with different factions in the CPSU(B), the defeat of a group in the USSR was soon followed by the defeat of its supporters in Poland.
Three times the Comintern intervened to remove the elected leadership of the CWPP [renamed the Communist Party of Poland (CPP) in 1925], in 1924, 1925 and 1929. Often these changes in leadership were made in spite of the opposition of a majority of the membership, a not uncommon practice of the Comintern during those years.
Throughout this period the Communist Party of Poland was quite small. Peak membership in the 1920s was 6,000 in 1927. Membership increased during the great depression reaching a high of 9,300 in 1933, but declining thereafter. At times, however, the Party’s influence greatly exceeded its small size. In the 1928 elections it polled over 940,000 votes, some 8% of the total.
In the mid-1930s Communist efforts to create a united front met with little success, while the increasingly reactionary nature of the ruling Pilsudski regime made party work increasingly difficult. Then in 1938 tragedy struck. Many people are familiar with the fact that the Great Purges in the USSR in the years 1936-1938 decimated the ranks of the Bolshevik Party. Less well known is the tremendous toll it took on foreign parties and foreign communists living in the USSR. The Polish Communists suffered more than most.
In 1938 the Communist Party of Poland was secretly dissolved on orders from the Executive Committee of the Communist International. The claim was made, but never substantiated, that the Party leadership had been infiltrated by police agents. Whether or not this was the case, the response of the Soviet government was unnecessary in the extreme. Several hundred Polish communists either already living in the Soviet Union, or ordered to return there, were shot or sent to prison camps.
These included the entire Politbureau and Secretariat of the CPP and thirty out of thirty-seven members and candidate members of the 1932 Central Committee. Adolf Warski, who had helped to found and lead both the SDKPiL and the Communist Party, was arrested and shot at the age of seventy. Only those party leaders like Wladyslaw Gomulka, who found themselves in the prisons of the reactionary Polish regime, survived.
If Soviet prestige among Polish revolutionaries was weakened by the destruction of the Polish Communist Party, an even more telling blow was struck by the events following the signing of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact of September, 1939. As necessary as the pact was to give the Soviet Union time to prepare for war against Germany, there can be little justification for the secret protocol attached to it which provided for the partition of Poland between the USSR and Germany. The disappearance of the Polish republic in the autumn of 1939 marked the formal beginning of world war II.
From the onset of its Polish occupation, the Soviet government demonstrated by its insensitivity to Polish national sentiments, the extent to which it had departed from Leninist precepts. In a speech to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Foreign Minister Molotov referred to Poland as “this ugly offspring of the Versailles Treaty.” Speaking of the Soviet occupied areas, a modern Polish historian has written:
The Soviet authorities were making use of repressive measures against the forces of Polish reaction in these areas. As a result of distortions of justice, and sometimes simply of misunderstandings, these repressions also sometimes fell upon Polish anti-fascists and communists. During the first months of 1940 the security organs began to deport unreliable elements deep into the Soviet Union.
The Comintern, taking its cue from the non-aggression pact, made an 180° turn from its previous anti-fascist orientation, determining that the war was now an inter-imperialist one which communists could not support under any condition. This position disarmed Polish revolutionaries fighting in the German occupied areas, because “by not expressing a clear view about the character of the Polish-German war of 1939, the Comintern gave the impression that the Polish people’s struggle to defend itself against the Nazi invader was an unjust struggle.”
The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union changed everything. In the fall of 1941 a Polish Communist Party was recreated under the name the Polish Worker’s Party, and began to agitate for a free Poland in earnest. The new party grew slowly under war-time conditions to 8,000 in 1943 and then to 20,000 in 1944. As the Red Army moved west, liberating Poland, a provisional government of national unity was established, in which communists played a leading role. Party membership swelled to 235,000 in less than a year. By 1947 the Party was clearly in charge and Poland had become a People’s Republic.
Nonetheless the base of the new regime was a fragile one. The militant pre-war workingclass had been decimated by the struggle against fascism and the new workingclass was overwhelmingly rural in origins. Many of those who joined the Communist party did so for reasons of career or governmental service rather than political conviction. Socialism had come to Poland in the wake of the Red Army, not through a popular revolutionary process.
If socialism was to be established on Polish soil, its character and tempo of development was yet to be determined. Was Polish socialism to be constructed in accordance with Polish conditions, or was the Soviet model to be replicated in the new land? This question was not the sole concern of the Poles; all of Eastern Europe was caught up in the debate, which raged most fiercely within the Communist Parties themselves. The differences between these two paths were quite real. Soviet interests called for the rapid integration of the People’s Democracies into the “socialist camp,” economically and politically, while the requirements of class struggle in the newly liberated countries necessitated a slower temp of winning the masses to socialism rather than its imposition from above by the party and state.
Unfortunately, the cold war, NATO, the Truman doctrine and Tito’s break with the Cominform ended the debate before it got off the ground. In 1948 the USSR quickly moved to crush “Titoities” and “bourgeois nationalists” in the leadership of the Parties of Eastern Europe. Purge trials were held and Communists who had opposed the mechanical imposition of the Soviet model in their own countries were tried on fabricated charges of working for foreign imperialism, convicted, and executed. The principal target of this campaign in Poland was Wladyslaw Gomulka who had been elected First Secretary of the Polish Workers Party in 1943.
Gomulka had often criticized the “Luxemburgist tradition” of Polish communism, its “national nihilism” and its neglect of the peasant question, and had spoken optimistically of a “Polish road to socialism.” Such views, which had been indispensible to the party’s popularity in the immediate post-war period, were considered dangerous and anti-Soviet in light of Tito’s independence. Gomulka and a number of other party leaders who supported him were removed from their positions in the state and party; a few were arrested. In 1949 Gomulka was expelled from the party; in 1951 he was placed under house arrest. Although charges were prepared against him he was never put on trial. His release from confinement did not come until 1954.
Meanwhile the Communist Party [renamed the United Polish Workers’ Party (UPWP) in 1948] proceeded to copy the Soviet model. Opposition parties were liquidated, the state apparatus was reorganized, and a “six year plan” was drawn up with one-sided emphasis on heavy industry to the neglect of the workers’ standard of living. Forced collectivization of agriculture was initiated and the party was purged of “unreliable” elements. These policies and their manner of implementation met with opposition, not just from bourgeois elements, but from sections of the workingclass and the party membership as well. This opposition was fueled by economic difficulties–an agrarian crisis in 1952 was followed by the admission that the inflated goals set for the six year plan might not be fulfilled.
The Party, which had initially enjoyed considerable working class support, saw its proletarian base begin to erode. Working-class membership in the Party fell from a high of 61% in 1949 to 45% in 1955. At the Second Party Congress in 1954, out of 1228 delegates there were only 272 workers and 108 peasants. A widening gap was developing between the party and state leadership on the one hand and the mass of workers and party members on the other, a gap which has not been bridged to this day.
The death of Stalin, and more importantly, the 20th Congress of the CPSU(B) brought the crisis of Stalinian socialism into the open. Its economic policies, political practice and ideological justifications became objects of critical discussion in Eastern Europe for the first time since the late 1940s. At the 20th Congress itself, a committee of delegates of the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union, Poland, Italy, Bulgaria and Finland issued a communique which stated that the dissolution of the Communist party of Poland in 1938 had been unjust, the product of falsified materials. The murdered leaders of that period were subsequently rehabilitated, as was the former Communist Party itself. The critique of the “cult of the personality,” initiated at the 20th Congress, found a tremendous response in Eastern Europe among the youth, intellectuals and the workingclass.
In Poland this discussion culminated in the Poznan events of June 1956. Stimulated by local grievances, this struggle was representative of the fears and frustrations of a large percentage of the population, as the Party was later to admit. It all began with a strike at the Stalin Locomotive works in Poznan, which soon spread to other factories. The strike was a protest against the misapplication of wage regulations, an excessive payroll tax, bureaucracy, the shortage of consumer goods, and poor housing conditions. Spontaneously, workers’ councils sprang up in the shops to direct the struggle. In Poznan itself the workers marched to the center of town where they were joined by other forces so that the crowd swelled considerably. Suddenly fighting erupted between demonstrators and the police. The official toll was 53 dead and 300 wounded. At first blaming the trouble on “hooligans” and anti-socialist elements, the government soon was forced to admit that the workers’ grievances were serious and widespread.
The Seventh Plenum of the Central Committee of the UPWP, which was held in July, was critical of both the national and local party organizations for their failure to respond to the problems of the masses. The Central Committee spoke of the “immense wrongs” suffered by the workingclass and admitted that “our awareness of the actual situation, of actual moods in the country was insufficient and superficial.” At the same time it criticized the Poznan party organization for having lost contact with the working masses. The first secretary of the Party committee at the Stalin Locomotive Workers made this remarkable admission which better than anything else explains the role which Stalinian Marxism assigns to the party at the point of production:
... instead of politically directing, the party organization had ... in practice sought to administer the factory, transforming the party organizations into . .. aides of the directors and managers .... The voice of the workers was not heard or heeded nor were the workers taken seriously. . . . This state of affairs was nothing else than the expression of a lack of faith in the workers’ ability to reason politically.
This role of the party in Poland not only goes a long way toward explaining why the workers have repeatedly turned against the government and the party; it also explains why the workers have so often turned to the trade unions and workers councils, as organizations through which to better express themselves and their economic and political needs.
The efforts of the Seventh Plenum to strengthen the party and the trade unions met with little success. It was clear that the old leadership discredited itself and nothing short of a change at the highest level could restore popular confidence in the party and state. Reluctantly, therefore, the Eighth Plenum of the Central Committee, held in October, elected Gomulka who had been asked to rejoin the Party in August, as the new First Secretary of the UPWP. In his speech to the Plenum Gomulka held out the promise of a new beginning. Referring to the Poznan events he said:
The workers of Poznan were not protesting against People’s Poland, against socialism, when they came out into their city streets. They were protesting against the evil that has become so widespread in our social system and which touched them so painfully, against distortions of the basic rules of socialism . . .
He further promised an end to what he called “the personality cult system”: “we have finished with this system, we shall finish with it once and for all.”
Gomulka’s promise was never realized. The crisis was postponed temporarily, but it was not resolved. As the Polish economist Wlodzimierz Brus has argued, as long as a socialist society only breaks superficially with the ’errors and distortions’ of the Stalin period, as long as it doesn’t make a genuine rectification of its errors, the ultimate source of the problems will remain untouched, continuing to reproduce themselves. Gomulka put an end to the worst excesses of the state repressive apparatuses, but he did not break with the economism of Stalinian socialism and its exclusion of the workingclass from effective political life and economic management. The lesson of this attempt should be stated explicitly: modern revisionism is not the solution to the crisis of Stalinian socialism. That crisis can only be resolved by the application of revolutionary Leninism to contemporary conditions.
The reforms Gomulka proposed actually served to hasten the outbreak of future crises in Poland. Gomulka told the peasantry that there would no longer be state coercion in collectivization and that existing collective farms were free to dissolve if their members so desired. The results were dramatic. Although only 8.6% of agricultural land had been collectivized by 1956, by 1957 80% of it had returned to individual cultivation in the process of which 8,280 of the 9,790 collective farms were disbanded. If Stalinian socialism incorrectly sought to impose collectivization by force, revisionism abandoned collectivization altogether.
The new party leadership had promised to respect the workers councils which had sprung up during the Poznan events, and had agreed to a revitalization of the trade unions. Neither of these promises was kept. By 1958 new governmental policies robbed the workers’ councils of what little powers they still retained. Likewise, the inner-party situation did not significantly improve. The gulf between the party leadership and the workingclass remained–a reflection of the Party’s continued subordination to the state apparatus and factory management. The percentage of workingclass membership in the Party fell from 45% in 1956 to 40% in 1959.
At the same time the economic situation continued to worsen. In 1962 austerity measures were announced, and in 1963 prices of fuels were drastically increased. A growing trade deficit, the low productivity of the agricultural sector, and a general shortage of consumer goods added to the problems. The response of the government was a new series of economic reforms. These reforms, which provided for an increased role for “market mechanisms” and greater autonomy for individual enterprises, did not represent a more advanced form of socialism, but rather a strengthening of capitalist relations in the economy, to the detriment of both socialism and the working class. The principal aims of the reforms were to raise labor productivity and increase production with little or no regard for the position or role of the workingclass. As one critic of these reforms noted in the official party paper, Trybuna ludu: “Making the manager a positive hero . . . and banking on improvements which are, in fact, merely organizational, limited to a narrow sphere of economic productivity, is bound to lead one to profess a socialism typical of the mentality of a market economist.. ”
It was to become increasingly clear that the reforms sought to develop the economy as a whole at the expense of the workingclass. The most important evidence for this statement is the 1970 reform in the industrial wage system which tied wages and bonuses directly to economic efficiency and productivity, and even provided for the development of an industrial reserve army of the unemployed. Trybuna ludu was to later charge that this plan, if implemented, would have created a pool of half a million unemployed by 1975. Others charged that “the maintenance of partial unemployment was to produce a feeling of industriousness, high productivity, respect for work and discipline” among the workers. All of these governmental reforms were supported by the party and the trade union hierarchies.
The response of the workingclass was a new round of strike struggles. The direct cause of new unrest was a dramatic increase in food and fuel prices of 15-30% on the eve of Christmas 1970. This announcement met with an immediate response in three Baltic shipbuilding cities, Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin, where the industrial workers set up independent strike committees demanding an end to the price increases and the new wage system. The Gomulka regime attempted to crush the strikes by force, with a resulting toll of 45 dead and 1,165 wounded. The massive repression backfired, sparking new strikes across the country, often spearheaded by the party rank and file in the factories. When the Gdansk strikers elected a delegation to present their demands to the government, 40% of the delegates were party members.
In one respect this struggle was different from that of 1956. In the Poznan events the workers had demanded certain fundamental structural reforms at the point of production, as exemplified by the workers’ councils, while the demands of other social strata were less stringent for higher wages, more consumer goods, a relaxation of censorship, etc. These latter demands were more easily accommodated after 1956 with the result that by 1970 these other strata were relatively quiescent. The party had responded to their complaints and they reciprocated by not rendering direct support to the strikers. This time the workers fought alone, but their power was still sufficient to bring down the government. The industrial wage system was scrapped, the price increases were withdrawn. Gomulka was asked to resign from the Secretariat and Politbureau of the UPWP. He was replaced as First Secretary by Edward Gierek.
The new Politbureau admitted that the Party was paralyzed by a crisis of confidence, which was constantly “widening the rift” between the party rank and file on the one hand which was allying itself with the workers, and the party leadership and state apparatus on the other. The new Gierek government sought to restructure the economy and improve the living standards of the masses to ward off new disturbances. Poland began to borrow heavily from western banks, and the 1971-75 five year plan was restructured to stress agriculture, consumer goods and housing. Concessions were granted to private farms and individual agricultural production was stimulated. 1975 real wages were 40.9% higher than the 1970 figures.
One thing remained unchanged–the lack of participation of the workingclass in the decisions affecting their own lives. That the workers were conscious of this political reality and its relationship to the economic situation was brought home to the Gierek government when the economic situation began to deteriorate in 1974-75. Poland, having tied itself to the world capitalist system through its reliance on certain foreign imports and its debt to western banks, could not escape the international recession of 1974-75. The Polish gross foreign debt increased from $2.5 billion in 1973 to $4.9 billion in 1974 and to $7.0 billion in 1975. The rising price of imported goods necessitated an increase in production for exports, to the detriment of domestic consumption, particularly in the agricultural sector and in the workingclass.
In the summer of 1974 the government tried to introduce a new wage system, once again tied to productivity. On June 24, 1976 drastic food price increases were announced–a 69% increase for meat, 50% for butter, 100% for sugar. Once again the workingclass was being asked to make sacrifices for trade deficits and the deficiencies of the private agricultural sector. Once again the response of the workers was a series of strikes and demonstrations. Within twenty-four hours the price increases were rescinded.
Since the workingclass had demonstrated its opposition to the economic policies of the government, the regime moved to strengthen its social base in the non-proletarian strata of Polish society. In January, 1977, it adopted a new agricultural policy which represented an acceptance of a permanent private agrarian sector while providing incentives for farmers to buy land and agricultural equipment. Similar measures encouraging private enterprises in crafts, services and retail trades were also adopted. Finally, the government sought a rapprochment with the powerful Polish Catholic Church. If the workingclass could not be won over, the government seemed to be saying, at least it might be effectively isolated.
None of the problems which had caused the 1976 events were resolved in the following years. Rather they lingered, just below the surface until they exploded with renewed force in July of this year. To fully understand the underlying causes of these problems it is necessary to have a clear understanding of socialism itself, theoretically, and as it actually exists within Poland.
In the following section we will try to lay out some basic theses on the nature of the socialist transition period, its principal contradictions and processes. We will also discuss the nature of the state, the party and the trade unions in the transition from capitalism to communism as they were defined by Lenin and the extent to which the Stalinian deviation represented an abandonment of Leninism in these areas.
Theoretically, there can be no doubt that between capitalism and communism there lies a definite transition period which must combine the features and properties of both these forms of social economy. The transition period has to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent communism–or, in other words, between capitalism which has been defeated but not destroyed and communism which has been born but is still very feeble. The necessity for a whole historical era distinguished by these transitional features should be obvious . . .
As Lenin points out here, the transition period between capitalism and communism is a complex process marked by the specific combination (or combinations) of features of both modes of production. These two modes of production are not complimentary, but antithetical. Capitalism is a class system based on the extraction of surplus value from the working classes. Communism is a classless society where labor and products are distributed according to social needs. Socialism itself is not a mode of production, but a non-linear series of conjunctures reflecting contradictory combinations of capitalist and communist elements.
These different conjunctures are defined by the balance of class and political forces which are brought to bear on the solution of the fundamental problems of the socialist transition period. In this section we want to discuss three of these fundamental problems or tasks which a socialist society faces.
1. Breaking the fetters which bind it to the world capitalist system.
The world system dominated by the capitalist mode of production, is manifested in the development and reproduction of forces and relations of production on a world scale and of a capitalist world market. This domination is not just economic, but political, ideological and military as well. A transitional society must break out of the role assigned to it in the hierarchy of world imperialism and free itself from the uncertainties and inequalities inherent in capitalist development and dependence on the capitalist world market.
2. Nationalization of the means of production.
Private ownership of the means of production is a cornerstone of the capitalist mode of production. When a socialist society nationalizes the means of production, finance and commerce, it removes them from the control of capital. In an agricultural sector dominated by small private farms, nationalization lays the basis for the elimination of simple commodity production which, like capitalism, must be transcended on the road to communism.
Nationalism creates state property, property “owned” by the state. Socialist nationalization creates state property “owned” by the state and administered in the interests of society.
3. Socialization of the means of production.
This task is the most difficult and least understood of the three, therefore we will spend more time exploring it. From the beginning it is necessary to distinguish socialization from nationalization. This is important because, in the history of the communist movement, these concepts have often been equated simplistically. This erroneous approach holds that since the means of production have been nationalized and the state is, by definition, a “workers’ state,” then the workers automatically have social control over the means of production.
Lenin opposed this view, insisting that while state ownership is a necessary condition for socialization, it is not socialization itself. In Lenin’s words:
One may or may not be determined on the question of nationalization or confiscation, but the whole point is that even the greatest possible ’determination’ is not enough to pass from nationalization and confiscation to socialization .... The difference between socialization and simple confiscation is that confiscation can be carried out by ’determination’ alone, without the ability to calculate and distribute properly, whereas socialization cannot be brought about without this ability. (Lenin’s emphasis)
Social ownership of the means of production is more than the administration by the state of the social product in the interest of society. It requires not just that the means of production and the social product be administered in the interests of society, but also that they be administered by society itself.
Socialization is a long and protracted process which relates to the economic, political and ideological levels. It means a qualitative transformation in relations of production and the labor process, through the growing involvement of the mass of workers in planning and control at every stage of production. The Chinese Cultural Revolution showed the contradictory beginnings of this process with its workers management teams, and its revolutionary “three-in-one” committees.
At the same time socialization involves mass political practice through the development and extension of proletarian democracy at all levels. In fact, as Lenin pointed out in a criticism of Trotsky’s and Bukharin’s “left” communist errors, a correct political practice is essential for the appropriate handling of the problems and contradictions which arise in production:
Trotsky and Bukharin make as though they are concerned for the growth of production, whereas we have nothing but formal democracy in mind. The picture is wrong because the only formulation of the issue (which the Marxist standpoint allows) is: without a correct political approach to the matter the given class will be unable to stay on top, and, consequently, will be incapable of solving its production problems either. (Lenin’s emphasis)
This quotation is illustrative of Lenin’s concern that politics always be in command, and that the primacy of the political instance in the socialist transition period not be forgotten.
The distinction between nationalization and socialization is central to an understanding of the nature of the transition to communism, because socialization is the essence of the concrete process of the “withering away” of the state. Under communism, where this process has been completed, the social direction of society is carried out by the masses themselves in everyday social practice without need of recourse to a state apparatus.
This withering away of the state, and the socialization process necessitate definite economic, political and ideological transformations. In the initial phase of the transition period, after nationalization but before significant socialization has occurred, the immediate producers are still separated from the means of production; they are only “proprietors” through the intermediary of the state. It is the state which has to make decisions about economic planning and governmental policy on behalf of the masses and in their interest.
The state’s decision making, however, is subject to all the contradictions of the transition period itself. There is pressure from other classes, class strata and social institutions. These elements, both contemporary and as vestiges of a previous social structure, function to influence decisions to their own advantage. There is also pressure from the state administrative apparatus itself, particularly if it is dominated by experts and bureaucrats from the old society, or persons who enjoy certain privileges as a result of their state jobs. Without the active and increasing input of the working class the constant danger exists that the state apparatus will capitulate to these pressures, or simply make mistakes in carrying out its functions. As Wlodzimierez Brus explains:
The longer the period of time that separates a socialist society from its point of departure, from its revolutionary origin, the determination of what is and what is not in the social interest becomes more and more difficult without the activization and extension of a democratic mechanism through which society can participate in the government of the state, i.e., in deciding how resources are to be allocated.
Given this danger it is absolutely essential for the transition to communism that the state strive to maximize proletarian democracy, the leading role of the masses, and their concrete control over the state apparatuses. In other words, in socialist states which have not yet made significant progress with regard to socialization, the relationship between the state and the working people becomes of decisive importance for the direction of development of that society. This is how Charles Bettelheim formulates the point:
The real significance of state property depends on the real relations existing between the mass of workers and the state apparatus. If this apparatus is really and concretely dominated by workers (instead of being situated above them and dominating them), then state property is the legal form of the workers’ social property; on the other hand if the workers do not dominate the state apparatus, if it is dominated by a body of functionaries and administrators, and if its escapes the control and direction of the working masses, then the body of functionaries and administrators effectively becomes the proprietor ... of the means of production.
From our discussion of the three basic tasks of the socialist transition period discussed above we can establish the following test to measure the degree to which a socialist state is dominated by the workers or alternatively escapes their control and direction:
(1) Is the state extending and deepening the break with world capitalism, or drawing the country more closely to it?
(2) Has the state nationalized the means of production, finance and commerce and is it using the resultant state property in the immediate material interests of socialist society?
(3) Is the state facilitating the means by which production can begin to be organized in accordance with the economic laws of communism (laws of social regulation of the economy) rather than the basic economic laws of capitalism (law of value)?
(4) Is the state facilitating the means whereby the masses are increasingly drawn into the political and economic process of decision making at all levels of society?
The answers to these questions will provide an index by which we can measure the direction of development of a transitional society. This concept of the direction of development is a vital one. Since features of both capitalism and communism exist throughout the transition period, a transitional society’s direction of development is determined by the degree to which one set of features is developed to the detriment of the other. The development of any society proceeds through the unfolding of contradictions and their resolution. If a transitional society responds to its contradictions through the strengthening of communist features (social appropriation, increasing role of the masses) then its direction of development is toward communism. Put another way, a society can be said to be moving toward communism when “a general unity of economic, political and ideological transformations ensures a growing control by the laborers over the means of production and products.” On the other hand, where a socialist society responds to its contradictions by strengthening capitalist elements (law of value, commodity production, strengthened role of the state apparatus over the masses) then we say that its motion is in the direction of capitalism.
It is important to be clear here that the strengthening of capitalist features in a socialist society does not automatically make it capitalist, it merely indicates its direction of development. Capitalist restoration represents, not a direction of development in a transitional period, but the end of the transition period itself. Tentatively we can say that capitalist restoration has occurred if all the following features are established:
(1) The state excludes the masses from power and directs state property not in their interests but against their interests.
(2) Relations between the various classes and social strata are determined by the basic economic laws of capitalism and take on the characteristic features of the capitalist mode of production, free of any significant restraints on their growth and reproduction.
(3) The control and direction of state property crystalizes in the control of social agents whose location and function with regard to society replicates the location and function of a bourgeoisie. The workers no longer can be said to hold state power.
(4) The possibility of motion in the direction of communism can no longer proceed from the strengthening of the already existing structures and features of society, but only from the revolutionary struggle of the masses to overthrow these existing structures.
Often the problem of analyzing the USSR or Eastern Europe is posed in terms of an “either/or” proposition; either they are capitalist or socialist countries. We feel that formulating the problem in this manner is a hindrance rather than an aide to its solution. Capitalism and socialism cannot be simply counterposed: one is a mode of production, the other a series of non-linear conjunctures containing elements of two modes, capitalism and communism.
It is easy to find capitalist elements in the economies of Eastern Europe; that is to be expected of countries which took the socialist road scarcely thirty years ago. But, if we are convinced that these are not capitalist countries, it is much harder to determine their actual nature. That requires answers to the following questions: how far have they proceeded and at what tempo, down the road to communism?; what is their current direction of development?; and what obstacles stand in the way of their further progress toward communism? The intent of this article is to begin to provide some of our tentative answers to these questions as they pertain to Poland.
Just as the socialist transition period is characterized by the combination of capitalist and communist features, so too the socialist state is not monolithic, but contradictory. Lenin pointed out two characteristics of the socialist state which render it a contradictory phenomenon. First, this state represents the interests of different classes with conflicting interests, under the hegemony of a single class. Secondly, the socialist state contains and, to an extent reproduces, characteristics of the old capitalist state apparatuses and bourgeois political practices. We will examine each of these contradictions in turn.
Historically, the socialist revolution and socialist construction has never been the exclusive domain of a single class, although the proletariat is the most consistently revolutionary class and must play the leading role in the transition period. Traditionally, socialist revolutions have occurred in predominantly peasant countries, such as Russia, where the resulting state was “a workers’ and peasants’ state.” Initially, every socialist society is composed of differing classes and fractions of classes, the peasantry, the workingclass, the petty bourgeoisie, mental and manual workers, technicians, administrators, etc. The interests of these various classes and class strata may not be antagonistic to one another, but they are often contradictory. The peasants, for example, will want a price for their grain which is as high as possible, while the workers will want to keep grain prices down. The goal of a socialist state is to resolve these contradictions in such a way as to facilitate the struggle of the workingclass to propel that society along the road to communism.
Proletarian hegemony, like the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, can only be achieved through the construction of a broad power bloc, which rallies all who can be rallied around the proletariat in the struggle for socialism. For such a state to handle contradictions one-sidedly, looking out only for the interests of one class or class fraction, would unnecessarily narrow the social base of the state, and thus of socialism itself. The need of a socialist state to understand and represent, under the hegemony of the workingclass, the interests of non-proletarian strata–to the extent that these interests are not antagonistic to socialism–is one of the essential principles of the Leninist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Lenin himself put it:
The dictatorship of the proletariat is a specific form of class alliance between the proletariat, the vanguard of the working people, and the numerous non-proletarian strata of the working people (petty bourgeoisie, small proprietors, the peasantry, the intelligentsia, etc.)
If the socialist state embodies the contradictory interests of different classes and class strata, it also embodies the contradiction between capitalism and communism, which is the essence of the socialist transition period. For while the aim of communists is to smash the old state apparatus and construct a new type of state in its place we know that this will not be an overnight occurrence. Since the totality of old state apparatuses cannot be destroyed overnight, certain of its features will have to remain for an indefinite period, along with a certain number of old bureaucrats, technicians and experts of various kinds who cannot be immediately replaced. But even if they could be replaced, the structure and relations of bourgeois political practice and state power would still have to be transformed, regardless of the personnel involved. This Lenin recognized to be a long and protracted process.
There is yet another manifestation of the contradiction between capitalism and communism in the state and its functioning. This is the fact that the proletarian state must combine the features of both democracy and dictatorship: democracy for the broad masses but dictatorship over the bourgeoisie and other class enemies. Each of these functions requires its own apparatuses and institutions and the greatest vigilance is required to insure that the distinction is not blurred, and that the repressive functions of the state, reserved for class enemies, are not employed to resolve contradictions among the people.
As long as old political relationships and practices left over from the previous order continue to exist they can produce a number of important effects, the most important of which is the bureaucratization of the party and the state. By bureaucracy we are referring to a set of practices and relationships which place party and state leaders in a position of relative independence with regard to the masses and party members to whom they are supposed to be responsible. The danger of bureaucracy is that it can be spread not only by officials of the old regime, but by new socialist officials who allow themselves to become infected by bourgeois power relations. Ironically, Stalin spoke about this bureaucratic danger in the following terms:
The danger is represented, not only and not so much by the old bureaucratic derelicts in our institutions, as particularly by the new bureaucrats, the Soviet bureaucrats, amongst whom “Communist” bureaucrats play a far from insignificant role. I have in mind those “Communists” who try to replace the creative initiative and independent activity of the millions of the workingclass and peasantry by office instructions and “decrees,” in the virtue of which they believe as a fetish.
Because of these vestiges of bourgeois politics Lenin insisted that the Soviet state could not be considered a true workers’ state but rather a “workers’ state with a bureaucratic twists to it” (Lenin’s emphasis). At the same time he expressed the hope that a genuine workers’ state was fifteen to twenty years away, but warned, “I am not sure that we shall have achieved it even by then.”
The contradictory character of the socialist state, as described here, determined Lenin’s approach to the role of the party and the trade unions in the socialist transition period, and in particular their relationship with the socialist state apparatuses. The general tasks of these organizations are well known. The basic (but not exclusive) functions of the trade unions are to defend the interests of the workingclass in the economic sphere and to be “schools for communism.” The function of the communist party is to organize the fight for proletarian interests at all levels, economic, political, ideological, and cultural. The party leads, not by simply giving directions to the masses, or worse attempting to coerce them. Instead it leads through the implementation of a mass line of political mobilization, ideological education and cultural revolution, starting with the consciousness of the masses and stimulating them to actively change the world, thereby changing themselves as well.
Less well known are the other functions of these organizations, functions which were forcibly dispensed with in the Stalin era. They flow from the nature of the socialist state. If the state only imperfectly embodies proletarian interests because it represents a class alliance and because of its “bureaucratic twist,” the communist party and the labor unions have an important role to play as independent “watchdogs” intervening in the state’s functioning to defend proletarian interests.
Leninism always insisted that these organizations had to maintain their distance and their autonomy from the state apparatus, while at the same time actively intervening in it and fighting against its bureaucratic tendencies. In no sense could these organizations be reduced to appendages of the state apparatus; because if such a course were followed, they would lose their ability to protect proletarian interests, and even begin to take on the bureaucratic features of the state itself.
For Lenin, the possibility of the party degenerating through its subordination to the state apparatus and its taking on of bureaucratic features was a very real one. In 1922, he wrote:
If we take Moscow with its 4,700 Communists in responsible positions [in the state apparatuses] and if we take that huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap, we must ask: who is directing whom? I doubt very much whether it can truthfully be said that the Communists are directing that heap. To tell the truth, they are not directing, they are being directed.
In the last years of his life Lenin repeatedly returned to this theme about the increasingly bureaucratic character of the Soviet state and party apparatuses.
In Lenin’s opinion the party would only be able to maintain its leading role and its proletarian character if a number of conditions were met. First, it had to continually enrich Marxism-Leninism, creatively testing it in actual conditions through the production, application and rectification of a revolutionary political line. Second, it had to extend and deepen its close ties to the masses through the defense of their interests and through the continued effort to draw them into active participation at all levels in the revolutionary process. Third, it had to continue to direct the state apparatus, ensuring that it developed in the direction of becoming a genuine workers’ state, and not allowing the state administrative and repressive apparatuses to become bureaucratized and unresponsive to the requirements of the masses. Finally, it had to constantly struggle against the bureaucratization of the party, the trade unions and other mass organizations, against their subordination to the state, and the loss of their revolutionary character. For Lenin, the maintenance of the party’s revolutionary proletarian character required a determined struggle against the influx of non-proletarian elements, careerists, opportunists, and workers who lacked the high political consciousness and dedication necessary for membership in a vanguard party.
Lenin once said that the question of the role of labor unions in the transition period was one of fundamental theoretical and political importance, and he was quite correct on this point. For Lenin, while the party must strive to be the proletarian vanguard, the labor unions are the organizational representation of the masses of workers. The labor unions are the “link,” between the vanguard and the masses. A break in this “link,” Lenin warned–the loss of support for the vanguard among the masses–could spell “doom for the Soviet power.”
What about the “link” between the labor unions and the state? Here Lenin was equally forthright, particularly in his defense of the labor unions against the efforts of the “Left” communists in the 1920-21 period to unconditionally subordinate them to the state apparatus. These “Left” communists argued that since the Soviet state was a workers’ state, the workers did not need independent organizations (independent unions) to protect them from their own state. Trotsky even went so far as to argue that the labor unions should be militarized into an industrial army.
Lenin strongly disagreed with this assessment and in so doing outlined his views on the role of the labor unions under socialism. He started by attacking the notion that the Soviet state was a true “workers’ state” and showed its contradictory character. Given that the state was, instead, the combination of features of a genuine workers’ state with vestiges of capitalist political practice and relations, the labor unions had a two-fold task. On the one hand, they had to defend the proletarian character of the state, fight for it against its enemies and organize and direct the workers to impose upon themselves a new kind of conscious labor discipline. On the other hand they had to defend the workers against the workers state. For Lenin this was not the task of the labor unions alone. He insisted that the party had to help the labor unions carry out both of these tasks. “We, for our part,” he wrote, “must use these workers’ organizations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state.”
Lenin was not content to merely polemicize about this issue. Quite the opposite, he strove to translate his views into guidelines which would specifically orient the party in its mass work. In 1922 he drew up a resolution on the “Role and Functions of Trade Unions under the New Economic Policy” which was submitted to and adopted by the 11th Congress of the Communist Party. The resolution made explicit the role of the labor unions with regard to both the masses of workers and the Soviet state:
it is undoubtedly the duty of the trade unions to protect the interests of the working people, to facilitate as far as possible the improvement of their standard of living, and constantly to correct the blunders and excesses of business organizations resulting from bureaucratic distortions of the state apparatus.
In this process in which the workers are to correct the blunders and excesses of the state, Lenin also saw a need for non-party persons to play a role in correcting the blunders and excesses of the party itself. Some communists today would find a situation in which the workingclass supervises their own activity, instead of the other way around, to be simply intolerable. Lenin had other ideas. He wrote:
we must have non-party people controlling the Communists. For this purpose, groups of non-Party workers and peasants ... should be invited to take part.. . in the informal verification and appraisal of work, quite apart from any official appointment.
Clearly, control by the masses (even peasants!) over the workers’ state and the Communist party was an essential component of Lenin’s conception of socialism.
If we contrast these fundamental Leninist theses on the state, the party and the labor unions with the practice of the Stalin period, the distance between Leninism and the Stalinian deviation stands out unmistakably. Equally clear is the inability of Stalinian Marxism to provide a framework within which to understand what is happening in the Socialist world today.
Lenin always insisted that the political and ideological organization of the workingclass, together with a policy of alliances with other classes and strata, was the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Proletarian hegemony means a dictatorship over the bourgeoisie, with the broadest democracy for the masses. The state, the party and the masses themselves have to create the mechanisms to carry out these two functions with the final goal being the “withering away of the state” itself.
The Stalinian deviation departed from this analysis in two important respects. First, it liquidated the distinction between the two functions of the state, one-sidedly defining the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat as force (state compulsion). The state repressive apparatuses, hitherto reserved for combatting class enemies, were enormously expanded and put to use in the “solution” of contradictions among the people, within the state and even within the party itself. The state system increasingly replaced the initiative of the masses, while the state bureaucracy grew to tremendous proportions, as administrative efficiency and technical expertise replaced political criteria in the assignment of cadre to governmental positions.
Secondly, the Stalinian deviation’s economism led it to subordinate the political and ideological organization of the masses to the demands of a distorted and one-sided economic development plan which was based on development of the productive forces without sufficient regard for a transformation of production relations, and to the detriment of the worker-peasant alliance and the standard of living of the masses.
In this process the whole of Soviet political practice was profoundly transformed. The workers’ Soviets and the mass organizations, as real bodies of workers’ power, ceased to exist. The state exercised hegemony not through a mass line and the mobilization of the masses, but by means of a voluntarist imposition of the line from above, backed up by the weight of the state apparatus. The expansion and militarization of the state was a blow against the autonomy and independence of the party and the trade unions. They were absorbed and subordinated to the state, and lost their ability to independently represent the interests of the workers in the state and society, becoming mere arms of the state apparatus–to direct, discipline and coerce the workingclass.
Instead of directing the state, the party was now directed by it, to recall Lenin’s words. No longer a predominantly critical, democratic revolutionary organization of the workingclass, the communist party became a top-heavy hierarchy, dominated by its own administrative apparatus. Rather than intervening in the state to protect the workers’ interests, it was turned into a machine to intervene in the workingclass to exhort it to work harder and raise productivity.
The same process occurred with regard to the labor unions. The notion of labor unions actively opposing the state when it acts against the interests of the workers is alien to Stalinian Marxism. The two-fold tasks of labor unions under Leninism were distorted into a single task in the Stalin era–discipline the workingclass. Protection of workers’ interests, the improvement of their standard of living, the struggle against bureaucratic distortions of the state apparatus, advocated by Lenin, were systematically abandoned, as the labor unions also became new arms of the state apparatus.
The statization of the labor unions under Stalin, was, in practice, virtually identical with Trotsky’s proposals of 1920-21, a fact that was not overlooked by the Leninists in the labor union movement who opposed it. At the 8th Congress of the Soviet trade unions in 1928 a number of union leaders, some of whom were identified with Bukharin’s opposition to the abandonment of the Leninist line on socialist construction, spoke out against this statization. They defended the role of labor unions in protecting “the personal interests and needs of the worker masses” and denounced what they saw as an “attitude of disdain” on the part of party and state leaders to the workers’ interests.
This opposition was shared by the bulk of the trade union cadre and the workingclass. So much so that the Stalin group was able to impose statization on the labor unions only through a massive purge of the trade union cadre in the shops and factories. In 1929-1930 between 78 and 86 percent of the members of factory trade union committees in Moscow, Leningrad, the Ukraine and the Urals, were replaced.
Once this process of statization of the party and the labor unions was completed, the workers lost control of the two most important organizations capable of fighting for their interests. The Soviet state, with all its contradictions and bureaucratic distortions was now making decisions in their name but without their input and without their ability to check abuses as they developed. This was the character of Stalinian socialism as it developed in the USSR in the 1930s and 1940s. This was the model of socialist construction which was exported to and imposed upon Eastern Europe after World War II. In the first part of this article we briefly examined how this process of socialist construction evolved in Poland. Starting with that history and this theoretical framework, we can now examine conditions in Poland today.
As we noted in the theoretical section above, for socialist construction to be successful, a country must break the fetters which bind it to world capitalism. This does not mean that a socialist country should have no ties to the capitalist economies, but that its economic development must be directed by the requirements of socialist construction, and not by the dictates of the capitalist world market. Since the 1950s the socialist countries have been attempting to walk a tightrope, seeking to purchase advanced technology and equipment from capitalist countries, while trying to minimize the negative effects on their own economies resulting from the price and demand fluctuations of the world market and commodity production.
Given the economism of Stalinian and revisionist socialism, which places the decisive emphasis on the development of the productive forces, it was not surprising that with the thaw in the cold war and the beginning of east-west trade in earnest, the socialist countries increasingly turned to capitalism for the latest technology and expertise. So far, this strategy for building a more advanced socialist economy has met with mixed results, particularly in the last decade.
In the past ten years the import of capitalist equipment and goods has significantly increased while the export of socialist goods has not matched this pace. The result has been an imbalance in east-west trade to the detriment of the socialist countries. This imbalance has been further aggravated by inflation, which was exported to Eastern Europe by means of the increased price of capitalist imports. Since the socialist countries were not making enough on their exports to finance the further importation of imperialist products, they turned to Western banks to obtain credit for their foreign purchases. By 1976 the Chase Manhatten Bank estimated that the total debt of the socialist countries belonging to the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) was $35 billion.
The worldwide capitalist recession of 1974-75 exacerbated the contradictions inherent in this arrangement. Socialist exports experienced a further decline, prices of imported products rose sharply, the socialist countries borrowed even more money from western banks at higher and higher interest rates. Poland’s position was one of the worst. Its foreign debt in 1976 was $10.2 billion while its trade deficit was $3.2 billion. Its debt to the imperialist world today has reached $20 billion, with the result that debt service (interest payments plus repayments on the principal) is now some $7.2 billion or 90% of export earning.
This economic debt to imperialism produces two important effects. One, it provides an opportunity for capitalist powers to use the debt as a political lever to intervene in the development of socialist society. Two, it produces a destabilizing effect on socialist construction and the socialist economy, with determinant political consequences. Both of these effects can be observed in contemporary Poland.
Since 1978 imperialist banks have been given access to privileged information on the functioning of the Polish economy. It has also been reported that pressure by western banks has produced definite results, including a 10% cut in Poland’s 1979 investment program and the suspension of a coal gasification agreement with West Germany. More significant has been the destabilizing effect of this debt on the Polish economy. This effect manifests itself as an attack on the standard of living of the masses because production has been reorganized for export rather than for domestic consumption. A member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, explains it this way: “Repayment for western credits and debt servicing has become a heavy burden obliging us to increase our exports at the expense of the home market, where there are shortages.
As regards the task of breaking free of the fetters of the world capitalist economy, it can be said that Poland has allowed itself to be put in an increasingly unfavorable position vis-a-vis world imperialism. To the extent that its economy has become subordinate to the demands of the world market and western banks, the Polish state (and along with it the Communist Party) has been obliged to sanction distortions of socialist construction to the detriment of the living standards of the masses. The workers have been repeatedly told to practice austerity to satisfy the demands of capitalist bankers!
The second important task of the socialist transition period is the nationalization of the means of production as a first step toward their socialization. While the Polish People’s Republic was able to nationalize the means of production in industry in the years following liberation, agricultural land has always remained overwhelmingly in private hands. In 1975, 77% of agricultural land was privately owned, while state farms accounted for only 21% and cooperatives 1.7%.
Historically, Polish agriculture never developed a significant capitalist sector employing wage labor and extensive mechanization. Polish agriculture was and remains largely a network of small family farms, producing both for their own consumption and for the national market. The primitiveness of rural production, and the lack of strong social and class differentiation among the peasantry has not only limited economic development, it has also limited the intervention of communism and the Communist party in rural areas.
As noted previously, the effort to forcibly collectivize Polish agriculture before 1956 was a significant failure, and since that time the government has preferred to come to terms with the private sector rather than initiate any mass campaign to transform it. Even though collectivization failed, time and transformations throughout Polish society have had a definite impact on the peasant population. In recent decades there has begun to develop a class differentiation in the countryside which has expressed itself in farm size and mechanization. On the one hand, there have grown up prosperous capitalist farms which, although few in number, are still allowed by the government to hire wage labor and buy land. At the same time there has also been a rise in the number of small agricultural units. Three-fourths of the new farms appearing between 1950 and 1960 were less than five acres in size.
Since the 1940s there has been a significant migration of young people from rural to urban areas, with the result that the rural work force has aged considerably. About one-third of the farm population today is 60 years old. Needless to say, the age of the farm population, the small size of most farms and their private characters have all contributed to a considerable agricultural crisis. These farms are inefficient and unmechanized and the productivity of agricultural labor is very low.
The political ramifications of a private agricultural sector should be obvious. Definite limits are set on the extent of state planning and the degree to which commodity production can be curtailed; non-socialist relations and ideology are constantly reproduced–the traditional bastion of the Catholic Church remains virtually untouched. The economic manifestations of this situation are equally serious. Throughout the 1960s the agricultural sector failed to produce enough to satisfy domestic consumption. Gomulka’s promise to end grain imports by 1970 went unrealized, instead grain imports rose steadily in the first half of the 1970s, reaching 3.7 million tons in 1974.
As with the imbalance in east-west trade to which the agricultural difficulties contributed, the government was also faced with an imbalance in agricultural prices. To stimulate peasant production the state was obliged to pay higher and higher prices for agricultural goods, while it was required to sell these same goods at prices which had been fixed back in 1966. An increasing amount of state revenues were required to make up the difference. By 1976 the state subsidy for farm prices was a full 12% of the gross domestic product.
The result was an agricultural crisis. The small private farms could not produce enough for domestic consumption, so food stuffs had to be imported. At the same time the peasants were demanding higher prices for what they were producing, as well as other concessions. The limited government revenues were tied up in paying off the foreign debts and subsidizing farm prices. Agricultural produce which would have gone to the already limited domestic market was instead being exported to improve the unfavorable trade balance to the detriment of domestic consumption.
The state and party have so far been unable to find a way out of this crisis. They have no plan for eliminating the small inefficient farms. Yet, to continue with the present situation will only prolong and intensify the crisis. In the aftermath of the 1970-71 workers’ struggles, the new Gierek regime decided upon a course of granting significant concessions to the private farm sector.
The Gierek plan included the following: compulsory state purchases of peasant produce were abolished, procurement prices for meat, milk and other products were raised, full property rights to land were granted to one million farmers and specific concessions were granted to the larger farmers in the form of lowered land taxes and opportunities for advantageous state loans. Given the already tight economic situation in the country, it was clear that sooner or later the workingclass would have to pay for these new concessions.
The Gierek strategy merely postponed the crisis; it was incapable of solving it. Agricultural production still lags behind domestic needs and the shortages, rationing, higher prices and long lines have been felt most acutely by the working class. It is the workers who have been asked once again to practice austerity, to make sacrifices; they are the ones who have been made to suffer because of the inefficiency and backwardness of the private agricultural sector. The failure of the state and the party to develop a non-coercive yet effective program for the collectivization and modernization of Polish farming is an essential factor in the longstanding crisis of Polish socialism.
Up to this point our critique of the contradictions in contemporary Poland caused by foreign debt and private agriculture, differs little from those of other anti-revisionist communist groups. But now, when we turn to the problem of socialization, the differences of substance become apparent. The bulk of the US communist movement uncritically accepts the Stalin model of socialist construction, and more or less consciously equates nationalization with socialization. For them the degree of actual socialization is not significant. For us, on the contrary, it is the decisive factor in the crisis of Stalinian socialism–the decisive cause in the ongoing crisis of Polish socialism.
The central thrust of Polish workers’ struggles since 1956 has been the insistence that the workingclass have a say in the running of society, and that it be allowed to participate in organizations which will facilitate this process of socialization. In 1956 they demanded factory committees. Today they are insisting upon independent labor unions. This demand requires not simple cosmetic changes, but a decisive reorganization in the economic and political relationships between classes and between the working masses and the state system.
Polish socialism, like socialism in the rest of Eastern Europe, developed in such a way that the enormous state apparatuses made the economic and political decisions without the active participation of the working masses. Statization of the means of production, which should have been viewed as a preliminary step toward socialization, has instead become an institutional structure which blocks any progress toward socialization. This blockage was made possible by the transformation of workingclass organizations into state organs, thereby depriving the masses of the organizational means to fight for socialization and to struggle against the bureaucratization of the state apparatus.
We can say that, as a result of this process, not only did socialization fail to develop, but the very mechanisms which would have made socialization possible–a party distinct from the state machinery, independent labor unions, organized workers’ control over the state and party–were never developed. Wlodzimierz Brus describes this process unfolding in Eastern Europe as one in which the party fused with the state machinery. The labor unions were then subordinated to the party-state systems. Speaking of the degeneration of the trade unions, he writes:
the trade unions became a servile instrument of the state, in particular of the party organs . . ., which not only set out the general line of union policy but decided every important move, and . . . decided the appointment of all personnel.... While called upon to combat bureaucracy, in these conditions the trade unions themselves became bureaucratized in a dual sense: internally, as a result of the domination of the hierarchically constructed apparatus over the rank and file workers’ organizations, and externally as a result of the subordination of the appointed union functionaries to the party apparatus.
At the factory level in Poland, the host of organizational forms intended to offer the workers some protection, in fact, operate to reinforce the demands of the factory management. This is not some accident, or the result of inefficient individuals, but a function of the system itself. To cite only one example, full-time trade union functionaries are paid by the enterprise in which they work so that they are dependent for their wages and other benefits (bonuses, etc.) upon the factory director, rather than the workers whom they are supposed to represent. This is one reason why the demand for free labor unions, issued in Gdansk, calls for unions independent of the enterprises.
The lack of organizations in the factories capable of actively safeguarding workers’ interests is admitted even by the Poles themselves. The results of a research study on the consciousness of Polish industrial workers points out the discrepancy between the statutory purpose of factory organizations and their actual performance:
The organizations investigated usually did not perform their statutory role. The factory committee of the UPWP did not exercise “political control” over the management; the factory council of the trade union did not represent the interests of the employees to the economic administration; organs of workers’ self-management did not facilitate employees’ participation in decision-making; the factory arbitration commission seldom protected workers’ rights properly. In general, all these organs were used as instruments to increase the economic effectiveness of the enterprise.
Here, the entire elaborate factory bureaucracy, with its multiplicity of interlocking and overlapping institutions, all supposedly for the benefit of the workers, is turned into its opposite in the interests of factory management.
The workers have generally recognized the ineffectiveness of these organizations, particularly the labor unions, in defending their interests. This was particularly apparent in 1970 when the union bureaucracy automatically approved the price increases and new wage system which sparked the 1970-71 workers’ uprising. The resentment of the workers against the union leadership came to the fore at the Seventh Trade Union Congress in 1972. There a delegate from the Zeran factory which had been in the leadership of the 1956 struggles, expressed himself as follows: “Seventy percent of our union officials are a virtual army of paper shufflers and titular delegates for trips abroad; they go to Bulgaria for fur coats, to Czechoslovakia for shoes, and to the USSR for cars.”
The party bureaucracy is no less guilty of having abandoned the workers. As it has all too often admitted, the party has lost the confidence of the working masses. In both cases, however, we should recognize that we are not dealing with monolithic organizations. In every struggle, 1956, 1970-71, 1976 and now in 1980, events have demonstrated that when the workers go on strike the rank and file of the party and the labor unions will frequently side with the masses against the official leadership. The Politburo of the Communist Party admitted as much in 1971 when it remarked that a “crisis of confidence” pervaded the party which divided the “basic mass of party members” from leading authorities. This crisis of confidence was said to result from the fact that the membership was not “fully convinced” of the correctness of leadership decisions, which as a result, was leading to a “rift between the cadre and the party apparatus on the one hand and the leading authorities on the other.” In fact, in the 1970-71 struggles a number of strikes were led by rank and file party and labor union members.
It is in this context that we must evaluate the criticism raised by the workers against the Party and the labor unions. They are not against these organizations as such, but against their bureaucratic structures and practices which make it impossible for the mass of honest cadre to defend workingclass interests. This, in turn, makes it impossible for these organizations to be organic proletarian bodies. What the workers are demanding are real workingclass organizations, because Poland’s economic and political crisis flows in no small measure from the lack of workingclass leadership in decision making–not just in the factories, but in the state system as well.
The workers are protesting the lack of institutional channels through which they can politically intervene in the direction of the economy, the state and social life. They are doing more than just defending their material interests. They are objectively asserting what the party has always told them belongs to them as a class–the vanguard role in socialist construction. The demand for independent labor unions and the structural changes which its successful implementation could provide lays the basis for the workingclass to begin to push forward the socialization process.
At last we can begin to draw the historical, theoretical and political threads of our narrative together. When we speak of Polish socialism, as well as the socialism of the USSR and the rest of Eastern Europe we are dealing with a profoundly contradictory phenomenon. True, an initial break with world imperialism was inaugurated, and an extensive nationalization (statization) of the means of production, finance and commerce was implemented. But beyond that point there was little motion in the direction of communism.
Beginning in 1928-29 in the USSR and after 1948-49 in Eastern Europe a perspective was consolidated in the Communist Parties of these countries which abandoned the Leninist emphasis on socialization (the transfer of control over and direction of society to the masses themselves) as the essence of the transition period. Also abandoned in practice was the recognition that the workingclass is the vanguard of the revolutionary process. For Stalinian socialism and its economist Marxism, the essence of socialist construction was, and remains, the development of the productive forces with the vanguard of that process being a militarized state system.
This was the perspective upon which Polish socialism was modelled. Instead of the masses being drawn into decisionmaking, the expanded state administrative apparatus delegated to itself extensive political functions and economic planning decisions without the mechanisms necessary to insure mass input and supervision. Lacking an independent party, labor unions or other mass organizations, the workingclass was unable to exercise its vanguard role, unable to either effectively defend its interests or check the growing independence of the state machinery, with its corresponding bureaucratization and corruption.
When the crisis of Stalinian socialism exploded in 1956 there was a modification of certain of these features, most importantly the curbing of the state repressive apparatuses which had committed many “violations of socialist legality.” But outside of some reforms at the judicial and state levels the fundamental political and economic structures and relations were not fundamentally modified. Rather the capitalist elements within these structures and relations were strengthened, with the result that the social contradictions of these societies were intensified. Lacking any workingclass check on its decisions, the Polish state has increasingly adopted policies which are not only contrary to the interests of the workingclass, but are, at the same time, at odds with the requirements of socialist transition itself. In fact, the overall thrust of these decisions has been to strengthen the pro-capitalist forces in Polish society, and the state, party and labor union bureaucracies with all their privileges. Poland’s direction of development can in no sense be seen as a motion toward communism. Rather, it seems clear that Poland is moving in the direction of capitalism.
The fundamental orientation of the present leadership remains unchanged: an insistence on the primacy of the development of the productive forces, relying upon capitalist methods of factory management, planning and production norms and a labor process which block the creation of relations of production appropriate to socialization and the struggle for communism. Likewise the present regime has no understanding of the need to develop a mass political and ideological campaign to transform the inefficient and backward-looking private agricultural system. The current leadership shows no sign of having learned the folly of increasing Poland’s reliance on foreign trade and foreign loans, happily provided by world imperialism. Finally there is the problem of the inability of the state and party to create the mechanism whereby the masses can actively intervene in the solution of the economic and political crisis which thirty years of Stalinian socialism has created.
This crisis and the strengthening of capitalist features in the USSR and Eastern Europe has led some communists to argue that capitalism has been restored in these countries. In this article we cannot devote sufficient space to a full explanation of why we reject this view. Referring to our criteria for capitalist restoration listed above, we have tentatively concluded that the totality of these factors does not exist. We do not believe that there are no significant restraints on the growth and reproduction of capitalism in Poland, nor do we find that a new bourgeoisie has been created which holds state power as a class. Finally we think that the struggle of the workers shows that it may still be possible to utilize existing social structures through their transformation (the labor unions) within the parameters of the present system, so as to reverse the direction of development of Polish society, short of revolution. Poland may not be capitalist, but that in no way minimizes the very serious problems with which it is faced. What is required is a fundamental restructuring of Polish society, a restructuring which will only put Poland back on the socialist road if it enjoys the support and active participation of the Polish working class.
If the workingclass has been deprived of the organizational forms for expressing itself under socialism, its interests and concerns which need expression still remain. The class struggle which is suppressed in one form, only breaks out somewhere else in a new and different form. What has happened is that the workers, having found all avenues of redress cut off through official channels, have had to resort to strike struggles and factory occupations to put forward their demands.
In 1922 Lenin listed the conditions which would justify a strike under socialism:
the strike struggle in a state where the proletariat holds political power can be explained and justified only by the bureaucratic distortions of the proletarian state and by all sorts of survivals of the old capitalist system in the government offices on the one hand, and by the political immaturity and cultural backwardness of the mass of working people on the other.
Today we need to amend Lenin’s remarks. Under the conditions prevalent in the USSR at that time, workers who went on strike did so as a spontaneous throwback to their method of handling class contradictions under capitalism, ignoring the channels opened by the dictatorship of the proletariat for the possible settlement of these differences in a new way. This was a sign of their political immaturity. Today, in the conditions which prevail in the USSR and Eastern Europe, where the workingclass at the point of production is faced with “bureaucratic distortions” and the lack of alternative channels, the organized political mass strike is a sign of a new political consciousness. Proof of this new consciousness is the fact that today Polish workers are demanding what Lenin said was their right (but which Stalinian socialism has always denied them)–independent labor unions. Recall Lenin’s designation of the two-fold tasks of unions under socialism: to defend the workers’ interests and to combat bureaucracy. Compare it with the typical comment of a Gdansk shipyard machinist on the need for independent unions: “The unions will give us the possibility to control illegal action by the government and preserve our rights.”
Perhaps we can illustrate the importance of independent unions by way of an analogy to another of Lenin’s concerns–the right of nations to self-determination. Lenin opposed those Marxists who argued that communists should only support the right of self-determination for nations which would exercise that right in the way these Marxists wanted. Such support, he argued, would only be a sham and a subterfuge. Instead Lenin stated that self-determination was a fundamental, if not absolute, right of all nations, one which communists were bound to support.
However, Lenin at the same time insisted that, if communists supported a nation’s right to self-determination, that did not bind them to support of one or another choice in the exercise of self-determination. Communists were instead obligated to determine, based on the class and national struggle, whether independence or federation was the better choice, and then actively intervene in the exercise of self-determination to insure that the correct choice was made.
A similar logic applies in the present case. One cannot simply support labor unions under socialism as long as they are docile props for the state, and oppose them whenever they assert themselves. To support labor unions which are effective, functioning organs of the workingclass under socialism requires that they be independent of the state, as Lenin himself pointed out. Where, as in Poland, the Communist Party has also become a docile prop for the state, the demand for independent unions has no meaning if it does not entail independence from the party as well.
The demand for labor unions independent of state control is a fundamental Leninist demand. Such unions are a concrete and irreplaceable means by which the workingclass as a whole can exercise its vanguard role: defending its interests, combatting the bureaucratic features of the state, and fighting for communism. Given the need for these independent unions, communists are obligated to actively intervene in them to insure that they in fact function to serve the workingclass struggle. Communists should not attempt to coerce the labor unions from outside by means of state pressure. Rather they must prove themselves to be effective leaders in the struggle within the unions, defeating backward ideas through political and ideological struggle. The vanguard role of a communist party is not a pre-given, it must be proven in practice. Only when the workers consciously and enthusiastically follow the leadership of a communist party which serves their interests and the struggle for communism has a solid basis for a successful socialist transition been created.
Both within Poland and from without a number of arguments have been advanced in opposition to the workers’ demands for independent labor unions. It is necessary to systematically respond to the most important ones to further clarify the importance of the current Polish struggle.
One of the most common objections which has been expressed is that the leadership of the independent labor union movement in Poland is social democratic, or Catholic or reactionary, in short–anti-socialist. How is it possible to support the movement under these conditions? In the first place it should be said that support for an objectively Leninist demand such as independent labor unions, does not automatically imply support for the present leadership of the struggle to achieve that demand. Under capitalism, for example there are many struggles which communists support where the leadership is reformist, petty bourgeois or the like, such as the campaigns for the ERA, school desegregation, and against nuclear power. But there is another, more important answer to this question.
We must be clear that, if the Polish workers do not support the Communist Party, and the Polish state, it is because these institutions have failed in their responsibility to the workingclass. The lack of support for the Party and state is the fault of these institutions and not the fault of the workers. Lenin had no trouble recognizing the correctness of such an assertion. In 1921 at the Second All-Russian Congress of Miners he had this to say:
If the party falls out with the trade unions, the fault lies with the party, and this spells certain doom for Soviet power. We have no other mainstay but the millions of proletarians .... Nothing can ruin us but our own mistakes. This “but” is the whole point. If we cause a split, for which we are to blame, everything will collapse because the trade unions . . . are the source of all our power.
In the same speech Lenin admitted that problems already existed and explained the manner in which they should be handled:
There is a spirit of hostility for us among the trade union rank and file because of our mistakes, and the bureaucratic practices up on top, including myself.... What is to be done? .... If we condone this mistake, we shall surely be brought down. It is a mistake and that is the root of the matter.
The Polish Communist Party has failed the working masses, it has failed in its responsibility to provide them with the leadership they require. Is it not clear that this error will only be compounded if communists now refuse to support the objectively Leninist demand for independent labor unions? It will only further alienate the workers, providing new ammunition for the social democrats, the Church hierarchy and genuine anti-socialist elements. This blindness to the reality of the Polish situation on the part of the Polish leadership stands in sharp contrast to Lenin’s self-critical honesty and his firm commitment to the genuine rectification of errors.
If the present leadership of the independent union movement is non-communist, it is because the communists have not proven themselves to be leaders in the eyes of the masses. If communists are to recapture their vanguard position it will be as a result of a new intervention in the workers movement and the independent unions, based on a rectification of the erroneous bureaucratic practices which had previously alienated the workers and genuinely communist political and ideological practice. To think that this vanguard position can be obtained by the application of external pressure in the form of state repression is to abandon the methods of communist leadership for one of the classic forms of bourgeois political practice. At the same time it constitutes a throwback to the worst features of Stalinian socialism.
Another argument which has been advanced is that the strike movement, by weakening the party and state system, has strengthened the forces of capitalist restoration. We would argue that the opposite is the case. In fact, the state and party system which presently exist in Poland is dominated by a bureaucracy which has benefited from a whole series of economic and social privileges which, as the party has often admitted, have had a profoundly corrupting effect on many of the individuals involved. These privileges do more than provide the bureaucracy with material interests independent of and contrary to the interests of the workingclass. They have the further effect of widening the gap between the consciousness of the state and party leaders on the one hand and that of the mass of workers and party members on the other. The present economic and political crises result from the disastrous policies of this bureaucracy. Their domination has already enormously strengthened the forces for capitalist restoration in the countryside, in the Church and in the state apparatus itself, while at the same time blocking the ability of the masses to rectify the non-socialist practices which have developed.
The greatest danger of capitalist restoration is posed not by the workingclass, but by this bureaucracy, by a state-party system independent of workingclass control, corrupted by privileges, indebted to imperialist banks, and blackmailed by a landowning peasantry. It is not the workers who have a material interest in capitalism; on the contrary, they are the most consistently revolutionary class, the class which has the greatest interest in the struggle for communism. It is not the supporters of independent labor unions who pose the greatest danger of capitalist restoration, but their opponents who continue to apologise for a state and party apparatus which has long been leading Poland back toward capitalism.
The state-party system has not been weakened in its ability to politically and militarily respond to the threat of capitalist restoration. If anything, the corruption and bureaucracy of the system itself is its greatest weakness and the demands of the workers are a direct attack on this bureaucracy and corruption. Where the system has been weakened is in its ability to disregard the well-being and interests of the working masses to the advantage of bourgeois elements in Polish society and foreign imperialism. In no sense can this be considered a boost for capitalist restoration.
What about the charge that support for independent unions is a syndicalist or even an anarcho-syndicalist demand? It is our opinion that such a view demonstrates a lack of understanding of both syndicalism and Leninism. Leninism recognizes specific and inter-related roles for the party, the state and the unions under socialism, as we discussed above. Deviations such as Stalinian Marxism and syndicalism express themselves as forms of substitutionalism, distorting these relationships.
In the Stalinian deviation the state becomes a substitute for the mass organizations and mass activity of the workers which are indispensible for a genuine socialist transformation. Syndicalism, on the other hand, substitutes the labor unions for the party and state and seeks to confine the leading role of the workingclass within the limits of the labor union structure.
As Lenin explained it:
Syndicalism hands over to the mass of non-Party workers, who are compartmentalized in the industries, the management of their industries . . . thereby making the Party superfluous, and failing to carry on a sustained campaign either in training the masses or in actually concentrating in their hands the management of the whole national economy. (Lenin’s emphasis)
Lenin’s point is that the workingclass cannot effectively manage the national economy within the narrow confines of the trade union structure: workers’ control requires new forms of organization and a new kind of workers’ training. Syndicalism, like the Stalinian deviation, fails to create the mechanisms which will put management of the national economy in the hands of the workers. The Polish strikers are not seeking to have the unions replace the party and the state, as syndicalists would. Even less are they demanding the right to singlehandedly manage industry. They are not demanding unions which will usurp the role of other mass organizations, but unions which will actively perform their own necessary role: fighting for the interests of the workers and for socialism. The demand for such unions is not a reflection of syndicalism, but a cry for proletarian democracy.
Another argument against the Polish strikes is the role of the Catholic Church and the religious sentiments of many striking workers, a feature of the struggle which was heavily emphasized by the bourgeois media. It is true that the majority of workers are religious. This must be seen as a reflection of the nature of the class itself. The Polish workingclass is very youthful; it has few links to the class conscious pre-war workers movement, and it is largely of rural origin, where the Church is strongest. But at the same time we must recognize that the Catholic Church and religious ideology are two different and distinct things: one is an institution with a myriad of apparatuses and extensive property holdings as well as international connections, the other is a popular ideology. Both are a vestige of this workingclasses’ pre-history, a vestige with which the workers’ movement and the Communist Party of every Catholic country has to contend. The workingclass cannot be written off simply because of the religious elements which remain in its world view. Still less can its world view be reduced to religion.
In spite of the presence of religious ideology, no one has seriously argued that the central thrust, or even a primary thrust of the recent workers’ struggles involved political support for the Church itself. If anything the Church in the past 25 years has tried to play the workers and the government off against each other to its own advantage. In the main all the workers have offered the Church is their faith, while the government has provided the Church hierarchy with far more material benefits. In 1971 the government promised to restore to church ownership 7,000 Church buildings, chapels, monasteries, and parish halls in Western Poland and to allow the construction of 130 new churches in the rest of the country. The Church felt the need to return the obligation and so Cardinal Wyszynski dutifly went on Polish television in August to urge the workers to go back to their jobs in support of the government. This is the same government to which critics of the strikes are offering their support in the interests of the struggle against religion!
Lenin, in speaking about the struggle against religion, wrote:
We must know how to combat religion, and in order to do so we must explain the source of faith and religion among the masses materialistically. The fight against religion must not be confined to abstract ideological preaching or reduced to such preaching. The fight must be linked up with the concrete practical work of the class movement, which aims at eliminating the social roots of religion. (Lenin’s emphasis)
Looking at the social roots of Catholicism in contemporary Polish society we can say that one of the most important factors is the failure of the state and the party to provide alternative social support mechanisms to those provided by the Church, and the bureaucracy’s insensitivity to the ideological needs and concerns of working people. As long as the masses cannot rely on the party and state to provide socialist alternatives to the political, ideological and cultural services which the Church furnishes, the struggle against religion will remain “abstract ideological preaching.”
A final argument made against support for the Polish strikes is that they are an attack on the USSR which is the “main bulwark against capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe.” This view is based on the mistaken notion that errors of the Polish government were made contrary to the wishes of the Soviet leadership and that socialism in the USSR is not marred by the negative features found in Poland. Therefore an attack on the Soviet Union is an attack on the form of socialism which the Poles should instead emulate if they want to overcome their own problems.
This is not the place to go into a detailed discussion of just how flawed this line of argument is. Instead we would like to point out the fundamental similarity between conditions of Polish and Soviet workers at the point of production. To illustrate our comparison we cite the words of Mario Dido, the Secretary of the Italian Communist Party’s labor federation, the CGIL. Speaking of his visit to an automobile plant in the Soviet city of Togliatti, which was built by the Fiat company, he said:
not only the technical equipment but also the organization of work is of the Fiat type .... it is impossible to distinguish the administrative organization . . . whether with regard to working conditions or the absolute priority given to productivity from that of the Turin plant.... At Togliatti.. . they have adopted not only western machines, but also western systems of organization.
Dido went on to insist that in these conditions the workers need a strong labor union force to defend their interests, but added, “at the present moment such a force does not exist, either in the Soviet Union or in the other countries of Eastern Europe.” Those who only see the USSR as a “bulwark against capitalist restoration” would do well to ponder just what kind of “anti-capitalism” this type of factory represents.
No one can predict with certainty the final outcome of the on-going Polish struggle. Soviet intervention cannot be ruled out, nor the capitulation of the workers short of victory, as occurred in 1956-58. It is quite possible that the state and the party will try to placate the workers with further economic concessions, purchased at the expense of a strengthening of capitalist features in Polish society. This is what the state has already been doing for some time with regard to the peasantry and others. With independent unions, however, the workers will have at least the organizational means to oppose resolution of the problem in this pro-capitalist manner. Whether or not the workers use their new unions in this manner will depend on the role of Polish Leninists. They can either abandon the new labor unions to non-communist elements, or actively intervene in them to guarantee that they truly serve the cause of socialist transformation.
Some commentators on the recent Polish events have failed to understand the full significance of what has occurred because of their belief that the only force capable of leading Poland out of its crisis is the Communist Party rather than the workingclass. There is an element of truth in this, to the extent that Poland requires not just revitalized and independent trade unions but a revitalized and independent party as well. However, to pose the question of the transformation of Polish communism independent of the actual struggles of the Polish workingclass, the present “crisis of Marxism,” and the negative lessons of the imposition of the Soviet model is to fail to understand the problem in its full complexity.
We began this article with a quotation from the Polish communist economist Brus. He has argued that Polish socialism is different from that in the USSR only in degree, not in kind. Both share this fundamental characteristic: the absence of proletarian democracy in politics and economics and the absence of developed socialization of the means of production and the social product. Unless we recognize that this Stalinian model of socialist construction and the related distortions of Marxist-Leninist theory are at the root of the crisis in contemporary Poland we will have failed to locate the focus for a genuine rectification and the positive solutions which the crisis demands.
Our focus cannot be the Polish communist party alone because as long as the party remains a subordinate arm of the state machine any Leninist opposition arising within it will be subject to the pressure and repression of that bureaucratic structure. The party cannot reform itself alone under these conditions. For that it requires the workingclass, as Brus himself points out:
In the December 1970 demonstration the Polish workingclass gave a positive example of the role . . . which it must develop, not only in exceptional situations, but daily by means of a strong and steady pressure on those who govern. Only thus will the internal forces in the Party which indeed want to introduce real changes win the social support necessary to the devising and effecting of a plan suited to the needs and the opportunities of socialism.
Polish Leninists must go to the workingclass, support its struggles, and demonstrate their vanguard role so as to create the social base for a Leninist rectification of Polish socialism. In this sense we can say that the workers hold the key to the solution of the present crisis.
Only with the backing of the masses can genuine Polish communists wage a successful struggle to rectify the party and begin to establish a dynamic workers’ state. With such weapons they can wage a struggle to end the reliance on foreign banks and private agriculture and for the socialization of the means of production and the expansion of proletarian democracy. This is the only path forward.
The striking workers did not include in their demands a call for a rectified communist party or an end to private agriculture and dependence on bank loans. But this should not lead us to dismiss what they have accomplished. These demands will only be won as a result of determined class struggle and the achievement of independent unions gives the workers an essential weapon with which the class struggle for these demands can now be waged. Only those without faith in the workingclass can think that its objective interests in these demands will not sooner or later be asserted. As Marx once wrote: it is not what the workingclass thinks at any one time which is important so much as what objective conditions will require it to do.
Our proletarian internationalist responsibility in these events is to take an active and critical position in support of the workers’ struggles. Proletarian internationalism requires this of us, not just on behalf of the Poles, but for ourselves as well, and the future of world revolution. We conclude, as we began, with the words of a Polish communist:
[Proletarian internationalism] . . . requires that communist parties and workers operating outside the socialist countries have an obligation to make an independent analysis of what takes place inside the socialist countries; it imposes the political necessity that they should adopt an active role in that connection... a critical but communist analysis of the experiences of socialism, the renunciation of those analyses which seek only to flatter, is essential not only for the international communist movement, but also for the future of world socialism.
The majority of anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist communists have more or less enthusiastically recognized the positive character of the Polish workers’ struggles, with the exception of the leadership of the Rectification movement, the Editorial Board of Line of March. Line of March, which recently expressed its uncritical support for Soviet troops in Afghanistan, has now rushed forward once more as the USSR’s strongest supporter in the anti-revisionist movement by condemning the Polish strikes as “reactionary” and a “step backward.” To justify its abandonment of our proletarian internationalist responsibility of support to the Polish workers, Line of March has put forward a series of arguments which are fundamentally at variance with Marxism-Leninism and the political principles which are central to the struggle against revisionism.
The inability of Line of March to understand the nature of contemporary revisionism and the struggle against it, places Line of March in close ideological proximity to the Communist Party, USA, while its open allegiance to the theory and practice of the Stalin era places it in close proximity to the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). While arguing for demarcations with revisionism and dogmatism, Line of March has yet to show an ability to do either when it comes to the burning political questions of the day.
In the main body of this article we examined the fundamental Leninist principles which are necessary for a correct understanding of current Polish events. Line of March prefers to start from a different political foundation. Its approach has required it to “rectify” certain of Lenin’s theses on socialism which it has “discovered” to be outdated. Let us look more closely at Lenin’s “obsolete” views and Line of March’s “improvements” on them.
Lenin said that “the chief source of our strength is the conscientiousness and heroism of the workers. . . Line of March has since decided that, at least in Poland, the workingclass with its demand for independent unions, is instead the chief source of capitalist restoration. What kind of socialism is this, that does not enjoy the support of the workers? Line of March has yet to explain.
Lenin said that “a vanguard performs its task as vanguard only when it is able to avoid becoming divorced from the masses it leads and is able really to lead the whole mass forward.” Line of March has since decided, based on its studies on Afghanistan and Poland, that a vanguard party does not need the support of the masses provided that it has the backing of the USSR and Warsaw Pact troops, which are a ”profound obstacle to capitalist restoration.” Never mind that these troops are backing up a government which has been steadily leading Poland back to capitalism.
Lenin said that the essence of the Communist Party program “consists in the organization of the class struggle of the proletariat and in leading this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of state power by the proletariat and the organization of a socialist society.” Line of March has since discovered that the essence of the party program should be fidelity to the “orthodox” Marxism of the 1930s, the defense of Soviet foreign policy, and the organization of the development of the productive forces, exactly copying and relying on the Soviet model.
Lenin repeated Marx’s axiom that the emancipation of the workingclasses must be the task of the workingclasses themselves. Line of March has argued that the task of the workingclass is to carry out the orders and the line of the Communist Party, and to do anything less is a capitulation to spontaneity.
There has been a disturbing recurrence in the polemics of Line of March of the notion that any fundamental criticism of the model of socialism as practiced in the USSR and Poland is a reflection of “petty bourgeois moralism.” With regard to Poland they have charged that support for the Polish strikers is a capitulation to the spontaneity of the workers’ movements.
As to the former charge, here, as in their analyses of Afghanistan, Line of March seeks to conceal the real contradictions of socialism behind a facade of class-baiting mixed with shallow amoralism. Line of March has often criticized those whom it thinks “support socialism everywhere in the world except where it exists.” After Afghanistan and Poland we have a right to wonder whether or not Line of March opposes revisionism everywhere in the world except where its exists.
As to the problem of capitulating to the spontaneity of the workers’ movement we think that this article has demonstrated clear theoretical, political and historical arguments for such support. Even so, the history of the US communist movement unmistakably demonstrates that, at least in terms of international questions, the main danger has not been a capitulation to the “backwardness” of the masses, but to the backwardness of the lines of foreign parties (Soviet and Chinese).
In an effort to maintain the appearance of an anti-revisionist orientation, Line of March insists that it is strongly opposed to the revisionist line of the Polish party and state. What it is unable to recognize is that, by opposing the striking workers and their demands, and rejecting any idea of increased workers’ democracy at the present time, it is objectively allying itself with the revisionist state and party it claims to oppose. Rather than support the concrete struggles of the Polish workers’ movement for an end to the crisis, Line of March places its hopes in a “rectification movement” within the Polish communist party, in spite of all evidence that no such movement exists. How such a movement will develop, or what its social base will be, they do not say. In essence, however, their position is clear: the Polish workers must postpone indefinitely their struggle for democracy until the Communists rectify themselves. In the meantime the present state-party system with its bureaucracy, corruption and hostility to genuine socialism should continue untouched, because the Polish workers, after thirty years of living under socialism, are still too “backward” to know what socialism is or to fight for it, without “rectified” communists to lead them.
Line of March’s position can be summarized as follows. It is based on the essential confusion of the Soviet model with genuine socialism, and the mistaken belief that the problems of Polish socialism (“the revisionist conception of socialism”) fundamentally began in 1956. Line of March puts its faith in the ability of the communist parties of the USSR and Eastern Europe to somehow reform themselves and in the interim views with suspicion and contempt the independent activity of the masses. The political essence of this view is a deeper error: the abandonment of revolutionary Leninism and the central role in it of the workingclass.
Marxist class politics fights for a socialism in which the workingclass holds state power. The role of the communist party is to facilitate workers power, not replace it with a self-perpetuating bureaucracy which exercises power indefinitely in their place. Marxist class politics says that a communist party’s vanguard role in the workingclass is not a pre-given absolute, but something which has to be earned through a demonstrated capacity to provide genuine leadership. Marxist class politics does not limit the workingclass to following communist leadership, but insist that it is the duty of communists to organize and develop the activity of the masses. And socialism which is constructed without the masses and against the masses is a hollow socialism indeed.
 Wlodzimierz Brus, The Economics and Politics of Socialism (RKP, 1973), p. 104.
 Horace B. Davis, Nationalism and Socialism (MR, 1967), pp. 44-45.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 29, p. 175.
 M. K. Dziewanowski, The Communist Party of Poland (Harvard, 1976), Chapters 6-8.
 Ibid.; Jan B. de Weydenthal, The Communists of Poland (Hoover, 1978); Nicholas Bethell, Gomulka (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969).
 Dziewanowski, p. 158.
 Quoted in Bethell, p. 38.
 Quoted Ibid., at 36.
 Dziewanowski, p. 254.
 Bethell, p. 209.
 David Lane and George Kolankiewicz, Social Groups in Polish Society (Columbia, 1973), p. 116.
 Bethell, pp. 218-19.
 Bethell, p. 233.
 de Weydenthal, p. 133.
 Lane and Kolankiewicz, p. 313.
 de Weydenthal, p. 144.
 Lane and Kolankiewicz, p. 316.
 de Weydenthal, pp. 147-48.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 30, p. 107.
 See Paul Costello, “World Imperialism and Marxist Theory,” in Theoretical Review, No. 9.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 27, pp. 333-34.
 Ibid., vol. 32, p. 84.
 Brus, p. 89.
 Charles Bettelheim, Economic Calculation and Forms of Property (MR, 1975), p. 96.
 Ibid., p. 149.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol 32, p. 24.
 Ibid., vol. 29, p. 381.
 J. Stalin, Political Report to the Sixteenth Party Congress (Modern Books, 1930), p. 117.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 24.
 Ibid., vol. 33, p. 288.
 Ibid., vol. 32, p. 25.
 Ibid., vol. 33, p. 186.
 Ibid., vol. 32, p. 388.
 Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR: Second Period (MR, 1978), p. 454.
 Anna DeCormis, “Behind the Polish Bank Connection,” Guardian September 10, 1980.
 Guardian, February 27, 1980.
 Peter Green, “The Third Round in Poland,” New Left Review Nos. 101-102 (February-April 1977), p. 96.
 Brus, Socialist Ownership and Political Systems (RKP, 1975), p. 50.
 Seweryn A. Ozdowski, “Polish Industrial Enterprise–The Legal Model and Operational Reality,” Critique.
 Quoted in Green, p. 86.
 de Weydenthal, p. 147.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 187.
 Wall Street Journal, September 2, 1980.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 32, p. 58.
 Ibid., p. 50.
 Ozdowski, p. 58.
 Dziewanowski, p. 317.
 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 15, p. 405.
 Quoted in New International Review (Summer 1980).
 Brus, p. 113.
 Ibid., pp. 113-14.
 Lenin on the Revolutionary Proletarian Party of a New Type (Foreign Language Press, 1960), p. 40.
 Ibid., p. 45.
 Ibid., p. 8.