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International Socialist Review, January-February 1967


Jacek Kuron & Karol Modzelewski

Program of the Polish Opposition


From International Socialist Review, Vol.28 No.1, January-February 1967, pp.17-29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following is an English translation of Chapter 10 of the French text of Jacek Kuron’s and Karol Modzelewski’s Open Letter, entitled “Program.” Kuron and Modzelewski are young Polish communists who are presently serving prison sentences for the circulation of this document. They were expelled from the Polish Communist Party in November of 1964 and wrote the Open Letter as an explanation of their views. It was addressed to members of the University of Warsaw sections of the Polish Communist Party and the Young Socialists. Kuron and Modzelewski were tried in July 1965 and are serving three and three-and-a-half year sentences, respectively.

The present text is based on a copy of the Open Letter which was received by the French Trotskyist movement late last year. A translation of the complete work is in preparation and will be printed by Merit Publishers this Spring. It will also include an introduction by Pierre Frank, a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International.

* * *

We have shown that revolution is the gravedigger of the old society. At the same time, it is the creator of the new. The question now before us is whether the working class, which by its very nature is the principal and leading force of revolution, is capable of offering a valid program.

This would be true if the program is advanced by the social class whose particular interest is most in accord with the needs of economic development and satisfaction of the needs of other classes and social layers – in other words, whose program permits the realization of the interests of society as a whole. The class interest of the workers requires the end of bureaucratic ownership of the means of production. This doesn’t mean that workers’ wages must be equal to the total value of the product of their labor. The level of development of productive forces in modern society creates the necessity of a division of labor permitting the existence of nonproductive sectors supported by the material product of the workers.

Under workers democracy it will also be necessary to deduct a part of the labor product for accumulation, to sustain and develop health services, education and culture; still another part will be allotted for social benefits, administration and government. But all of this will be carried out only to the extent that the working class considers it necessary in its own interests. In reality, exploitation does not consist in the fact that workers’ wages represent only a part of the value produced, but in the fact that surplus product is taken away from them and used for ends which are foreign and antagonistic to them; the nonproductive sectors serve to maintain and reinforce the domination of the bureaucracy (or the bourgeoisie as well) over production, over society and the life of the working class. The end of exploitation means the creation of a system where the organized working class will be the master of its labor and its labor product; where it will determine the goal of social production; where it will determine the division of the national product. It will manage the extent and direction of investments, of expenditures for social benefits, health services, education and culture, the budget of the government apparatus, and the actual duties of this apparatus. Then the working class will exercise economic, social and political power in the state.

I. The present level of productivity implies a social division of labor in which the function of production is separate from that of management. There must be workers and managers. In the process of production, the working class is not destined to manage but to produce. In order to manage, it must organize itself and be organized by its state.

If there is no workers democracy in the factory, there can be still less in the state. In fact, it is only in the plant that workers are in their own element; it is there that they exercise their essential social function. If the workers are slaves to their labor, then freedom outside work is only “freedom on Sundays,” that is, fictional freedom. The working class cannot be the master of its work and of production if it does not have control over the conditions and goals of its work in the factories. To this end, it must organize itself in the plants by forming workers councils to manage the factories. It must make the manager a subordinate functionary to the council, supervised, hired and fired by it.

Today, all key administrative decisions in the factories are dictated by the central government. Under such conditions, workers councils lack any power in practice. The manager is linked by his very nature to the leading bodies and therefore to the central apparatus of economic administration. Under these conditions, the workers councils take on the character of secondary managerial bodies, comparable to the Autonomous Workers Conferences. In order for the councils to be able to manage the factories, workers must make them independent of the factories. This would establish the preliminary conditions for workers democracy and, at the same time, give new directives for the realization of the true class goals of production. (As we have already shown in Chapter 3, centralization is necessary for organization of the means of production sector, while the production of consumers goods requires decentralization.)

In this way, the working class, by taking the first steps of its program, would realize in passing what is quite progressive in the program of the technocrats: the independence of factories. However, the working class and the technocracy give totally different social contents to this concept. For the technocrats, independence of factories places all power in the hands of management. For the workers, it means independence of the working class. This is why they cannot limit themselves to management of the factories through the intermediary of councils. It would only amount to carrying out the program of the technocrats and thereby submitting the workers to a new yoke.

Major decisions concerning the division and use of national revenue by definition have a general economic character, that is, they are made at the level of the national economy – they can be made only by a central government. If decisions made by the government remain outside the control of the working class, it cannot direct production and consequently its own labor. Workers autonomy limited to factories would inevitably become a fiction to mask the power of plant management and the domination of a new bureaucracy politically linked to the technocracy in the state apparatus. Then exploitation would continue and the old disorder would repeat itself in a new form.

II. This is why it is necessary for the working class to organize, in addition to workers councils in factories, delegations from plants throughout the country. That is, it must organize councils of workers deputies with a central council of deputies at their head. Under this system of councils, the working class would set the goals of social production, would make the necessary decisions, and supervise carrying out the plan at every step. At each level the councils would become the instruments of economic, political, executive and legislative authority. They would be truly elective bodies for the voters, organized on the basis of factories. Voters would be able to recall their representatives and replace them at any moment, without regard to regular election dates. Workers delegations would become the framework of the proletarian state.

III. If workers delegates in the central council of deputies had before them only a single project for the distribution of national income presented by the government or by the leadership of a single party, their role would be limited to that of a perfunctory vote. As we have shown in Chapter 1, monopolistic power cannot have a proletarian character. That automatically becomes a dictatorship over the working class, a bureaucratic organization serving to atomize workers and keep thsm and all of society in subjection.

In order for the system of councils to become the expression of the will, of the thinking, of the activity of the working masses, the working class must organize itself into more than one party. What does a plurality of working parties mean in practice? The right of every political group recognized by the working class to publish its own newspaper, to present its program via the modern information media, to organize cadres, to carry on political campaigns – in brief, to be a party. The existence of more than one workers party requires freedom of speech, press, assembly, the end of preventative censorship, complete freedom of scientific research, of literary and artistic creation. Without freedom of expression for different currents of thought in the press, in scientific research, in literary and artistic experimentation, without complete freedom to create, there is no workers democracy.

With the existence of more than one workers party, the different parties would present their proposals for the division of the national income in the central council of deputies; then the conditions would be created which would permit the real elements of an electoral program to emerge; it would benefit both the central representatives of the workers, and the masses, who elect and recall delegates. A plurality of workers parties does not however imply that access to these parties would be limited to workers alone. The proletarian character of the parties would reflect the nature of the state power organized on the basis of councils. Then parties seeking to exercise influence on the political power could not do so except by winning over the working masses.

For the same reasons, we oppose parliamentary regimes. The experience of the last twenty years shows that they are no guarantee against dictatorship and that, even in the most perfect forms, they are not governments of the people. In the parliamentary system, the parties only fight to be elected: The moment the vote is cast, the electoral platforms can be thrown into the wastebasket. In parliament, the deputies feel themselves bound only to the party leadership which named them as candidates. Voters are grouped in arbitrary election districts according to purely formal criteria. This atomizes them. The right to recall deputies is a complete fiction. Participation of citizens in political life amounts to nothing more than reading statements of the leaders in the press, listening to them on the radio, and seeing them on TV – and, once every four or five years, voting to choose the party to govern them. The rest takes place by virtue of a mandate, without the voters’ participation. Furthermore, parliaments only exercise legislative power. The executive apparatus holds the only real powtr, the power over those who control the material force, that is, the power over surplus value.

Therefore the parliamentary system is one in which the working class and the entire society finds itself deprived of all influence on government-by virtue of voting. To formal voting every four or five years, we counterpose the permanent participation of the working class, organized in a system of councils, political parties and unions: Workers would assume the correction and supervision of political and economic decisions at all levels.

In the capitalist system, the bourgeoisie, which controls the surplus value, is above parliament. In the bureaucratic system, the untrammelled rule of the central political bureaucracy lies behind the parliamentary fiction. In the system of workers democracy, if representation of the entire body of citizens takes a parliamentary form, the working class will be above parliament, organized in councils and controlling the material base of the existence of society, namely the product of labor.

IV. The working class cannot decide on the division of the labor product directly, it can only do so through its central political representation. Furthermore, the working class is not absolutely homogeneous in regards to its class interests. Conflicts between the decisions of workers delegations and the interests and tendencies of workers in particular factories and particular sectors of the working class are inevitable. The mere fact of separation between management and production holds within it the possibility of the development of an elected power with a certain amount of independence, and this holds true as much at the factorly level as at the state. If workers were deprived – above and beyond the right to vote – of the possibility of self-defense against the decisions of their representational system, the system would degenerate and act against the interests of those it is supposed to represent. If the working class were deprived of the possibility of defending itself against the state, workers democracy would become a fiction. The possibility of defense must be guaranteed by trade unions absolutely independent of the state with the right to organize economic and political strikes. The different political parties would fight to maintain the proletarian character of trade unions in seeking to exert influence over them.

V. In order that the organs of workers democracy not be turned into a fagade behind which all “the old crap” will reappear, it is necessary that the forms of democracy correspond to the vital content of the activity of the working masses. For administrators, specialists and politicians, public affairs is a profession. They have the time and knowledge necessary for it. The worker is an agent in the process of production. His profession is attending to a machine. In order for him to be able to take part in public life, it is indispensable to give him a minimum of time and education.

To this end, several hours per week taken out of the regular paid work must be devoted to the general education of workers. In these hours, the workers, organized according to the units of production, would discuss the variants of the national economic plan, the regional plans and the factory plans proposed by the different political parties. These affairs are only too difficult, if not unintelligible, when attempts are made to hide the class meanings of the division of national income. The representatives of the different political parties taking part in workers education periods would bring the working class closer to their programs and their programs closer to the working class.

VI. Under a workers democracy, political police and regular (standing) armies cannot be maintained in any form. The antidemocratic character of political police is obvious. However a plethora of myths has been created around the concept of a regular army of the dominant class, myths accepted to a certain degree by all of society.

What is a regular army? It is an organization within which hundreds of thousands of young men torn from their natural surroundings are isolated in barracks, where all independence of thought is driven out of their heads by brutal methods, teaching them to carry out mechanically any order coming from the hierarchical and professional command structure. It is this organization which is the basis of the armed force of the state. This force, separated from society, is conditioned to come into conflict with it at any time. And it is for this reason that it is not enough to change the officers: The regular army, like the political police, is in its very essence an instrument of anti-popular dictatorship. As long as it is maintained, a clique of generals can always elevate itself above any party or council.

It is said that regular armies are indispensable for the defense of nations. This is true under an anti-popular dictatorship where it is difficult to force the great masses to fight to defend a state which does not belong to them; this can only be attained by intimidation and terror supported by the regular army. Arming the masses outside the framework of this organization represents a mortal danger to the system; it is why regular armies are the only way dictatorship can organize the armed forces.

However the examples of the revolutionary wars in Vietnam, Algeria and Cuba show that armed workers and peasants – when they know why they are fighting and identify their interests with those of the revolution – are in no way inferior to regular armies. This is true above all for small countries prey to the counterrevolutionary aggression of foreign powers: When they are attacked by a regular army they can only defend themselves effectively by the methods of peoples war. Regular armies are necessary to the aggressors for their colonial wars and interventions; they are necessary for anti-popular dictatorships to keep the masses in subjection. This is most obviously the case in Latin America where armies play the role of internal police. But it is equally true everywhere armies exist, and it is the same in Poland, as the Poznan events show. Regular armies, whether clashes occur or not, are instruments of brutal domination over the working class and society, just as a bludgeon is an instrument for beating whether or not its owner uses it. In a workers democracy, the regular army would not impede counterrevolution. On the contrary, it might become a counterrevolutionary instrument itself. Consequently, it must be liquidated.

In order to make it impossible to overturn its democratic rule, nevertheless, the working class must be armed. This is particularly true for workers in mass industry who must everywhere be organized into workers militias subordinate to the councils. Military specialists must act as instructors responsible and subordinate to the councils. In this way, the military repressive force of the state will be linked closely to the workers who will always be ready to defend their power and their revolution arms in hand.

For technical reasons, it is important to maintain permanent specialized units (missiles, air forces, a fleet, etc.). However soldiers of these units must be recruited from workers in given factories in mass industry and during their service they must remain in contact with the workers of their plants, and keep the rights due-workers.

VII. Agricultural production and the peasantry play too important a role in the economy and in society for the workers program to neglect the question of the countryside.

Unquestionably, the future of the peasantry resides in large industrialized and specialized state enterprises. The technical base of this organization of agricultural production necessitates rural industrialization; it requires substantial investment only realizable over a long period of time. Under present technical and economic conditions, any attempt at general collectivization would mean the expropriation of the peasants which must be carried out against them by a police dictatorship. It would result in a drop in agricultural production and a return to the system of police dictatorship against the working class. Such a collectivization would be consonant only with the bureaucratic system. For workers democracy it would mean death; it is unacceptable.

The present agricultural structure, in which there is private land ownership, results in the establishment of farms of the capitalist type, provided the laws of the market operate freely, without any limitations. Because they are scattered, these small holdings have small investment resources although investment is essential to their development, and consequently the major part of investment comes from the largest farms. Rationalization of agriculture would therefore signify a profound crisis: bankruptcy of the poorest peasants and a lack of opportunities and declassment of the small peasantry. For the factory workers, this would mean an increase in basic-necessity prices and unemployment. Such a development is acceptable to the technocrats (the natural partisans of the tendency toward concentration in agriculture), but it is unacceptable to a democratic workers state.

VIII. The productive goal of the working class is to develop the consumption capacity of the immense masses who have nothing today but the bare minimum. As we have already shown in Chapter 6, the bureaucracy lowers the consumption of the majority of peasantry below the bare minimum; it deprives the peasant economy of its surplus and the peasants of opportunities for development because it tends to reduce the real cost of labor power as much as possible and treats social consumption as a necessary evil.

The working class has an interest in eliminating the type of relationship which exists between the state and peasantry. The interests of the workers demand rational development of agricultural production (the basis of consumption) by the development of the mass of small and middle individual holdings and the corresponding increase of their investment and consumption possibilities. It is precisely this that makes the working class the spokesman of the interests of the majority of the peasants and at the same time establishes the basis of a real alliance between them.

To realize the common interests of the workers and the immense majority of peasants it is necessary:

To this end, the peasantry must organize itself in accordance with its economic bases, and provide itself with political representation. It must create its own producers organizations. This is key to opening up opportunities for the 60 per cent of the peasantry which is vegetating on small holdings and which represents a surplus labor force; at the same time, a glut of industrial investments must not be permitted.

This requires that this excess labor force be used for supplementary intensive production: husbandry, truckfarming and fruit growing. But this is very difficult, and it is impossible to create an industry capable of carrying out this transformation with the dispersed forces of the small peasant enterprises. Prerequisite to success is the creation of associations of individual small and middle-sized enterprises which would have a sufficient labor force. These associations, as a result of the land they would have at their disposal, of the cooperative work which they would permit, and with state aid (low-interest rate loans, state participation in small investments, state transport, etc.), would put in service small transitional enterprises and would organize distribution and sale. This is the most economic way of increasing the production of food products which are lacking today, of overcoming the underdevelopment of the consumers goods industry, and of increasing the productivity of small and very small holdings, employing the surplus labor on the spot.

The conditions must be created on peasant enterprises for specialized production, without which economic rationality is impossible. At the same time, in their contacts with the state purchasing bodies, the peasant producers must organize themselves to be defended against any artificial lowering of prices. The isolated peasant, who concludes “free” contracts with the state, is powerless in the face of its monopoly of the market. This is why, independently of the creation of producers organizations, the peasants must create their own general organization for distribution and sale. With relationships like this existing, the strongest enterprises, which are few in number, but which play an important role by reason of their size and their economic power, would no longer have the opportunity of transforming themselves into capitalist farms; they would lack the labor and the cheap land resulting from the ruin of the weakest enterprises. But the strongest enterprises could increase their production by virtue of their own investment resources or to the extent they succeeded in replacing the labor they lack by mechanization.

Since industry is the decisive sector of the economy, the directions taken in the development of industrial production set the general lines of development for the entire economy. In controlling the product of its labor, the working class will determine the general framework of the development of other sectors and consequently also of the peasant sector. But in the general framework of the whole economy, determined by the level, the organization, and the development of industrial production, the peasantry must have control over the product of its labor. Plans for the development of the countryside, the use of rural social and cultural investment funds, cannot be presented unilaterally to the peasantry by the state. In this case, in fact, power over the peasantry would be exercised by a well-developed separate apparatus, which in practice would be exempt from the control of the working class and might even impose its own control over it.

The convergence of the interests of the working class and the majority of peasants permits the political autonomy of the peasantry, autonomy which is also a necessity of workers democracy. The economic organizations of the peasantry we spoke of above will not be adequate to assure control of that part of their product which is delivered to the state and which must be returned to them in the form of various kinds of immediate financial investments and economic aid. This can only be accomplished by a political representation of the peasant producers at the national level established with the aid of the economic organizations and of peasant political parties. Consequently, the working class is profoundly interested in an independence of the peasant movement permitting representation of the interests of the majority of peasants, rather than only that of the narrow layer of the most powerful proprietors.

IX. We do not consider the anti-bureaucratic revolution to be an exclusively Polish affair. The economic and social contradictions which we have analyzed have ripened in all the industrialized bureaucratic countries, in Czechoslovakia, in the German Democratic Republic, in Hungary and in the Soviet Union.

Nor do we consider the revolution to be the exclusive affair of the working class of the bureaucratic dictatorships. The bureaucratic system, identified with socialism by the official propaganda of the East and West, comprises socialism in the eyes of the popular masses of the developed capitalist countries.

The international bureaucracy and its leading force – the Soviet bureaucracy – fears all genuine revolutionary movements in the world because they threaten the monolithism of its sytem on an international scale as well as the internal monolithism which permits it to exercise its dictatorship over its own working class. Desiring international and internal stabilization on the basis of the world division into spheres of influence, with capitalism, the bureaucracy smothers revolutionary movements on its own territory, and by means of its influence on the international Communist parties, holds back the development of movements in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The anti-bureaucratic revolution is the affair of the international revolutionary movement and of all the movements in favor of colonial revolution, in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America. It is part of the world revolutionary movement.

Like all revolutions, it threatens the established order and it is menaced by the forces which defend this order. The international bureaucracy, to the degree it is strong enough, will try to smother the victorious revolution in the first countries where it occurs. Western imperialism will try to profit from our revolution by replacing bureaucratic dictatorship with a dictatorship of the capitalist monopolies, which is hardly an improvement.

Our ally against the intervention of the Soviet tanks is the Russian working class, the Ukrainian, the Hungarian and the Czech. Our ally against the pressure and threats of imperialism is the working class of the industrialized West and the rising colonial revolution in the underdeveloped countries. Against the collusion between the international bureaucracy and the international imperialist bourgeoisie, we raise the historic slogan of proletarian class struggle: “Workers of the World, Unite!”

The working class must carry out all these revolutions in all domains, political, economic and social, in order to realize its class goals, to control its own work and the products of its own labor. Is its program valid?

In taking the first steps to realize it, that is, in giving autonomy to the enterprises, the working class creates the necessary conditions for adapting production to needs, the end of the waste of economic surplus, the utilization of the intensive factors of economic growth. The technocrats would do the same. But the productive goal of the working class is consumption on the broadest social basis and not the luxurious consumption of privileged layers. This is why the rule of the working class over production assures in the most decisive way the overcoming of the principal economic contradiction which today stands in the way of economic and social progress: the contradiction between the productive potential already developed and the actual low level of social consumption. As a result, the relations of production based on workers democracy open up the broadest perspectives for the development of the economy and society. By their unique class interest, the workers represent at the same time the economic interest of the mass of poorly paid white collar workers and the small and middle peasantry, in other words, the overwhelming majority of the rural and urban population.

The enslavement of the working class is the principal source of the enslavement of other classes and social layers; in liberating itself, the working class liberates all of society.

In the process of production, workers occupy the most ungratifying position. That is why the working class more than any other class in society needs democracy: Any denial of democracy rebounds first against the workers. Workers democracy is socially the broadest form of government and creates the best conditions for the full development of society.

The specific class interest of the workers then corresponds best to the needs of economic development and consequently represents in the most complete way all the interests of society. The program of the working class is therefore valid. Will it be realized?

That depends on the state of ideological and organizational preparation of the workers at the moment of revolutionary crisis and thus on what those who consider the program of workers democracy their own do today.

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