Poles! If you cannot prevent your neighbors from devouring your nation, make it impossible for them to digest it.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Events in Poland since August 1980, the struggle of Polish workers for their rights, constitute a critical turning point in the history of the Soviet imperium. The situation, still completely unpredictable at the onset of the new year, holds much more importance for the future of the world communist movement, the Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself than the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Polish revolt of the same year, the Czechoslovak reforms of 1968, and even the Stalin-Tito rupture of 1947-48. Its international implications are no less grave. Poland is the key country in the Soviet bloc in terms of strategic location, military and economic potential, and size of population. A major lasting change there could transform, if not destroy, the Soviet Union's East European empire.

Even before the recent events, Poland was far from being a typical East European communist state. It is the only communist country in which individual small landholders form the vast majority of the peasantry. The Polish Catholic Church represents a virtual alternate government with a moral authority unmatched by any postwar Polish regime. (As a Vatican joke has it, the most Catholic countries in the world are Poland, Ireland and the Vatican, in that order.) Culturally, Poland belongs to the West; its cities exhibit a lifestyle that is Western in character.

It is a homogeneous country of intense national consciousness and deep national pride, with a long tradition of struggle for independence, and of survival under the most adverse conditions of foreign oppression. Even with Soviet troops on the ground, the communist takeover of 1944-45 was resisted in what was for a time a virtual civil war. Since then, 35 years of communist rule have failed to eradicate the distinct national identity shared by all strata of society and expressed by an intelligentsia whose very label is synonymous with dissent. In recent years, numerous dissident organizations have been able to communicate their views to a broad range of publics; hundreds of thousands of students took part in so-called flying universities, where professors taught courses they could not present at the regular universities. And industrial workers have confronted security forces in the streets on three occasions in the last quarter-century (1956, 1970, 1976) to demonstrate their opposition to the regime.

What has happened in Poland since the labor unrest in August 1980 is too well known to require detailed review. The crisis began with local strikes against price increases. A workers' movement quickly rose and spread across the nation, and a series of broadly based sit-in strikes in factories and mines forced the government, under the threat of a general strike, to promise the workers the right-unprecedented in a communist regime-to organize an independent trade union movement. Other demands, political in nature, were raised in the process, and hard-pressed Polish leaders promised to overhaul the regime, the policymaking process, and the policies themselves. The workers' struggle brought about the resignation of Polish Party leader Edward Gierek as well as the almost complete replacement of the upper echelons of the Party and the government. What took place in Poland during the past few months is nothing less, to use the words of Karl Marx, than the transformation of the Polish working class from eine Klasse in sich to eine Klasse für sich.1


Why did the workers' strikes in Poland assume such massive proportions? Why did the workers' demands concentrate on relatively far-reaching structural changes, so exceptional for a communist state? Obviously events were triggered by the price increases which the Polish government announced during the late summer. But just as obviously, the reasons underlying those events are much deeper and broader.

First of all, by the late 1970s, it had become evident, not only to the Polish working class but to the population as a whole, that Poland faced nothing less than the collapse of its planning and management system and the total bankruptcy of its economy. An examination of recent trends in Polish economic development provides indisputable evidence for this conclusion.

In 1980, it is quite clear, the national income of Poland showed for the second consecutive year an absolute decline, a dubious honor not achieved by any other Soviet bloc country. Not only are there immense shortages in the supply of necessities-which, because of their immediate short-range political implications, have received the greatest attention in the press-but of even greater significance are enormous disruptions in the industrial, construction and agrarian sectors. These trends have long-range implications for a Polish economy already burdened by massive hard-currency indebtedness.

In the months of August and September alone, according to official estimates, industrial production dropped 17 percent below that of the same period in 1979. Total production losses for the July-September period are estimated in the neighborhood of $2.3 billion. For the coal-mining industry, one of the mainstays of the Polish economy, the shortfall may be as large as ten percent of the total output. In the first three quarters of 1980, the plan for the construction industry was fulfilled by only 37 percent. The grain harvest, which was about 21.3 million tons in 1978, declined to 17.3 million tons in 1979, and mounted, according to optimistic estimates, to just over 19 million tons in 1980. This total is officially declared to be eight million tons below current needs, thus requiring expensive, large-scale imports. Meat production, which was 3.3 million tons in 1979, may have declined to 2.4 million tons in 1980 and may not exceed 2.2 million tons in 1981. The potato harvest is officially estimated to have been the worst in 20 years, down almost 40 percent from that of 1979.

What went so wrong with the Polish economy? One key cause can be traced to the critical decision made by Gierek in 1970 when he replaced the discredited Party chief, Wladyslaw Gomulka. Workers' unrest, prompted by dissatisfaction with the economic situation, had led to Gomulka's overthrow. Gierek promised to improve the situation radically. He could have chosen to restructure the Polish economy and reform its unwieldy and cumbersome planning, management and incentive system. In doing so, he would have had to rely upon long-range recovery and improvement of the Polish economy. Instead, he elected a different course. His strategy combined significant imports of Western technology, financed on credit, with heavy investment in the growth of Polish industry. The theory was that massive infusions of Western technology would permit Poland to switch from extensive to intensive growth; and foreign debts incurred in the process could be repaid by the consequent increase in exports from a revitalized Polish industry.

If the policy initially yielded positive results, in the last analysis it failed to meet expectations. In the years 1971-75, the net industrial product increased, according to official statistics, at the rate of almost 11 percent per year; that is to say, about 30 percent faster than in the preceding decade. Real industrial wages, which from 1961 to 1970 grew at 1.8 percent per year, rose in the 1971-75 period by 7.2 percent annually.

But from the mid-1970s Gierek's program foundered. Unforeseen world economic conditions combined with weaknesses in the preparation and execution of Gierek's policy to slow economic development and erode Poland's ability to meet its credit obligations. First, the energy crisis increased radically the cost of oil required for development. Second, the recession in the West impeded the sale of Polish goods in hard-currency markets, thus dissolving Gierek's hope that expanded exports would repay foreign debts. Third, the investment policy of the Gierek government proved ill conceived and unrealistic. At some stages as much as 40 percent of the Polish national income was devoted to investment, about 75 percent of this being devoted to heavy and export industries; increasing domestic demand was left unsatisfied, thus creating immense inflationary pressures and making Poland dependent on expensive imports. Fourth, and most important, the government did not undertake any of the major reforms in the system of planning and management which might have prepared the system to cope with the demands arising from increased dependence on intensive growth, the application of new technology, and the growth of productivity.

Enormous disproportions and bottlenecks resulted from the rapid economic growth sustained by credits and imports. The proportion of unfinished investment projects grew rapidly; the utilization of foreign technology was highly inefficient and its diffusion slow. Beyond a short-range impact, the major inflow of Western technology failed to generate significant long-term improvements in productivity. The import of technology and credits could not serve as a substitute for structural reforms. The structural mismanagement of the economy became endemic and visible to everyone; waste assumed incredible proportions.

During the first years of Gierek's program, the expectations of the Polish working class soared. Those expectations were satisfied in part-at least initially. By 1979 and 1980, however, the situation had become dangerously unstable. In the face of diminishing economic returns from an increasingly stagnant economy, consumers experienced both inflation and severe shortages of basic commodities. That the Gierek leadership lacked credibility in economic matters had become patently obvious. At the same time the government neither informed the people about the true economic situation nor adequately prepared them for the necessary austerity measures. The belief spread throughout all sectors of society, including the Party itself, that the economic system had outlived its usefulness, that it had nothing more to offer-in short, that it was bankrupt.


Poland's economic crisis paralleled a crisis of political authority as the Party become totally divorced from the realities of everyday Polish life and its inner life stagnated. United under Gierek's command, the Party leadership allowed no fresh voices to pose questions concerning the relationship between the Party and the working class or the state and the economy-or if such voices were raised, they were quickly silenced. After 35 years of communist rule in Poland, the Polish population, including the working class, ceased to believe in the Party's authority, its ability, and its right to rule. Nothing so clearly demonstrated the gulf between the legal and the civil society as the overwhelming popular response to the visit of Pope John Paul II to his native country in the summer of 1979.

The effects of virtual economic bankruptcy and the crisis of political authority were compounded for the population by a heightened visibility and awareness of official corruption and privilege. Workers harbored a growing sense of the injustice perpetrated by a state which claimed incessantly to represent the workers and stressed continuously in its propaganda the centrality of the workers in society. When shortages of foodstuffs developed, no system of rationing spread the burden evenly. The hated symbol of elite privilege was the so-called yellow curtain store which concealed from public view the sale of scarce goods to the Party and state bureaucracy. Another source of aggravation was the newly opened shops that traded only with foreign currency.

Disaffection among workers found other sources of nourishment. Plans for investment in public housing were not fulfilled. The housing situation became critical, especially for young working couples who wished to marry and had to wait many years for an apartment. Mobility into the middle class was felt to be more and more difficult for the children of working people, as the higher education system, the major channel of mobility, did not expand rapidly. All in all, there developed within the working class a deep sense of just social grievance against the system that ruled in its name, a sense of grievance that was no longer responsive to reassurances and promises from the Party leadership.

A final and crucial reason helps explain the scale of labor unrest: the character of the Polish working class itself had changed. The authorities failed to grasp the fact that a new working class had emerged. The peasants who flocked to the factories in the 1950s and 1960s improved their economic and cultural lot by the very act of becoming urbanized. Now no longer dominated by peasant recruits, the Polish working class is urban in origin, and has a different attitude and a different set of expectations. Moreover, it is not burdened politically by the paralyzing memory of Stalinist terror. More self-assured and willing to take risks, it is more activist. And it differs culturally from its predecessor. This generation of workers is better educated and better trained than the previous generation, and enjoys a new sense of confidence and self-identity. Finally, the workers are better able to compare their own conditions with those of workers in the West or in more developed East European countries. They listen to foreign radio broadcasts; they talk with millions of tourists visiting Poland; and hundreds of thousands-even millions-of them travel abroad. It was this new working class which, in the developing situation of last summer, undertook to redress its grievances and demand social justice.


To speak at this time of a workers' victory in Poland would be premature, given the unpredictability of the international situation-that is, the continuing possibility of a Soviet invasion of Poland-as well as the unpredictability of internal developments in Poland. Yet it can be asserted with confidence that the first battles of the workers against Party authorities have been very successful: however the situation develops-with or without a Soviet invasion-it will not return to the state of affairs that existed before August 1980. While we do not know the full extent of the gains already won by the workers, some of these gains represent significant concessions that will endure. This consideration alone warrants posing the question: Why did the workers win in Poland?

To begin with, the workers' challenge to the communist regime was much more difficult to counter than the previous eruptions to which dissident intellectuals accustomed communist regimes in the post-Stalin era. A massive movement of workers in a so-called workers' state is qualitatively different from a numerically small movement of the intelligentsia which can be successfully managed by combining intimidation, repression, bribery and forced emigration.

Second, consider the way the struggle developed, and the general political situation in Poland. Polish workers learned from the experiences of 1956, 1970 and 1976 when their confrontations with the authorities in street demonstrations turned quickly into violence and defeat. In 1980, they adopted a new tactic that was much more effective. Sit-in strikes and occupation of factories put the onus of initiating violence in any effort to eject the workers-a difficult task in itself-on the government. The workers exhibited an admirable measure of self-discipline, a high degree of organization, and an unprecedented ability to act in concert.

Third, for the first time in Polish history the two streams of opposition to the regime became effectively joined-the broad workers' movement and a widespread movement of dissident intellectuals. Their union is symbolized by the commissions of experts attached to the newly formed free-trade unions. The role of the dissident intelligentsia in these events should not be exaggerated. The main force behind these events was an authentic, spontaneous working-class movement; the dissident intelligentsia jumped on the bandwagon. They did add an important dimension, however, by supplying advice and, even more important, by providing the communications network through which news of the workers' actions reached the country. The ability of workers along the coast to communicate their actions and demands to workers in other parts of Poland and to the population in general was a key element in forcing the retreat of the government, which faced not simply a localized strike but the threat of a general strike.

It was good tactics as well for the workers to concentrate on one issue-the demand for independent trade unions, which were perceived as the sole guarantee that the government would honor future promises to the workers and attend to future demands of the workers. The workers were not distracted on the one hand by immediate economic demands or on the other by broad political demands that would be explosive in their implications.

The existence of an independent Church in Poland lent enormous moral support to the workers' activities. Nonetheless, during the strikes and especially at the beginning, the Church hierarchy, and Cardinal Wyszynski in particular, played a rather ambiguous role. The Church clearly supported the workers, but just as clearly it feared that the workers' demands might go too far. It therefore sought to exert a moderating influence. Without any doubt, the workers and their spokesmen played the leading role in events. The Church found itself in the position of saying: "I am your leader, so I will follow you."

In the critical days of late summer and fall, the Party found itself in disarray. Its leader, Gierek, was ousted, and the new leader, Stanislaw Kania, had no time to establish a firm command. The Party activists and regional Party bureaucrats became, and remain, disoriented. The new unions exploited the resulting power vacuum in the political system.

Another absolutely crucial element in the vacuum was the position of the armed forces, which maintained neutrality on the issues. Moreover, it is reliably reported that as the crisis ripened the commander of the Polish armed forces, General Jaruzelski, informed the Party leaders at a crucial meeting of the Central Committee that the Polish Army could not be relied upon to intervene and eject workers forcibly from the occupied factories. This statement was a turning point, for it left the Party little choice but to negotiate seriously with the workers and to consent to major concessions. Threatened with a general strike and a complete breakdown of order, the new Polish regime accepted the workers' basic demands. This decision resulted not only from fear of workers' reaction to a rejection of their demands, but also from the fear that continued chaos in Poland and a general strike would increase the danger of Soviet intervention. At that point, the Polish leaders feared this outcome more than the workers did.

What the workers in Poland have won, at least potentially, is the unprecedented acceptance by a communist regime of independent trade unions and the right to strike when other means of bargaining are exhausted. In a very short period of time, a workers' organization has been created to parallel the officially sponsored unions. Even in its formative stage it already includes the majority of Polish workers. If the new organization survives, it will end the organizational monopoly of the Communist Party. The existence and survival of such an organization will give the workers an effective veto power over the economic policies of the government-and, as we know, economic policies are at the heart of politics in communist states.


But will the independent trade unions survive? The answer is of course a resounding "no" should the Soviets intervene directly in Poland. Even without intervention, however, can the victorious Polish workers translate paper agreements into actuality? This depends on two crucial elements: the behavior of the workers themselves and the situation within the Communist Party.

When speaking about the Party, it is essential to distinguish Poland in 1980 from Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Hungarian leadership under Imre Nagy and the Czech leadership under Dubcek represented renegade Communist Parties which had adopted unorthodox and highly reformist positions that questioned the very political system and the alliance with the Soviet Union. The new Polish leadership under Kania cannot be characterized as renegade, even by the most generous imagination. Although far from homogeneous, it is composed basically of politically conservative communists who at the same time acknowledge the need for reforms, particularly in the areas of the economy and relations between Party and workers. Some leaders are more conservative and some more reformist; none, to our knowledge, questions the need to preserve the Party's monopoly, the need to enforce a policy of censorship, however revised, or, most of all, the need to maintain a close alliance with the Soviet Union.

As we have noted, this new leadership has yet to consolidate its power over a Party that remains disoriented and disorganized, especially at the provincial level. Factional struggle persists between hard-line and more moderate elements. Once consolidation comes about, however, there can be little doubt as to the tactics of the Party. It will aim to erode the workers' achievements, to wear down the workers, and to provoke continual skirmishes over specific items of contention. It will attempt to divide the workers, to isolate them from the dissident intellectuals, and to co-opt their leaders. It will also seek to define the lines of resistance to demands concerning political issues that patently involve the symbols and reality of communist rule in Poland, such as censorship and the security apparatus. At the same time, however, it will agree to compromise on immediate economic issues and on issues of structural economic reform. In other words, it will aim to preserve the essential non-negotiable characteristics of the system while being flexible on important but marginal elements of the system.

It is impossible now to say how successful these tactics will be. There is a strong likelihood that many of the workers' gains will survive even after the Party regroups and consolidates its power. Soviet intimidation and the fear of invasion act here as powerful weapons to moderate the workers' demands and to confine them within bounds that do not threaten to destroy the communist system itself.

During recent weeks, the situation among the workers has stabilized somewhat. Militancy has subsided, and the "Solidarity" leadership has increased its control over the local rank and file. This gives reason to suppose that in the absence of a Soviet invasion the new trade unions will survive and become powerful ingredients in the Polish political system. Genuine success of the Polish experiment, however, will depend on radical improvement in the economic situation, and that, in turn, requires major economic reforms. Without a major transformation in the economic sector, the real demands of the workers cannot be met, and the situation will deteriorate once again. Here we come to one of the key dilemmas, the truly vicious circle, of the Polish situation.

Poland requires far-reaching economic reforms to create a viable economy, to sustain steady increases in the standard of living, and to persuade Western creditors of the country's solvency. It needs a major change in agricultural policy, which would entail a redirection of large investments into the agrarian sector, a cancelling of restrictions on the growth of private farms, an extension of credits to farmers, and a restructuring of farm prices. It also needs reforms in the service sector. A policy like the Soviet New Economic Policy of 1921 should be introduced, encouraging craftsmen, artisans and small private entrepreneurs, and the prohibitive level of taxation on their activity should be abolished. But of greatest importance and difficulty, Poland requires a basic reform of the industrial system of planning, management and incentives-a reform that would resemble, or even go beyond, the Hungarian model. Without such reforms, designed to cut drastically the waste in the Polish economy and to increase its productivity, any hopes for a long-range recovery of the economy are pipe dreams.

But here is the dilemma. Difficult and costly reforms such as these would require a transitional period of several years of austerity and self-denial for the consumer. In the long term, they would benefit the workers. In the short term, they would demand sacrifices. At present the workers, having lost their trust in government, see no incentive to accept these sacrifices. Only if more goods can be produced to satisfy the workers' needs will the government be able to gain their trust; yet such production increases themselves presuppose basic reforms.

Aside from promises, the government has only one recourse for breaking this vicious circle. It must meet the demands of workers for a role in running the factories and mines, and ultimately for a partnership in determining Polish economic policies. One may presume that the wisest Polish leaders understand that the workers' demands have to be met at least halfway. The key question here is whether such a governmental policy would be acceptable to Poland's communist neighbors, particularly the Soviet Union.


The events in Poland have very serious implications indeed for Poland's neighbors, for the Eastern bloc as a whole, and for the Soviet Union itself. To appreciate the depth of their concern one has only to survey the vicious attacks and warnings published in bloc countries, particularly East Germany and Czechoslovakia; the statements of Party leaders in those countries; and the increasingly hostile and frequent commentaries in the Soviet press. The reasons for the anxiety are clear: the economic, political and social issues that propelled the rise of a powerful workers' movement for reform in Poland are not absent in the other Eastern Bloc countries. Although the issues are more muted in these countries and the probability of their sparking a similar outburst is less immediate, victory for the Polish workers and the institutionalization of the role of independent unions as a counterweight to the monopoly of the Communist Party could become a highly attractive example to workers in the rest of Eastern Europe.

Nor is the Soviet Union itself immune to labor unrest and the dangerous implications of raised workers' aspirations. Politically and economically, the decade of the 1980s will be a very harsh one for the Soviet Union. The extensive development that fueled Soviet economic advances over six decades can no longer assure the high growth rates of the past. Even if no other negative factors intervene and traditional Soviet economic management undergoes no decline in quality, the Gross National Product (GNP) will grow during the 1980s by only about 2.5 percent per year. The Soviet political-economic system of management, pricing and incentives is ill-prepared to maximize the possibilities for intensive growth. A relatively rapid shift to intensive growth would require fundamental changes in the political-economic system that are unlikely to be accomplished in the foreseeable future. Unfavorable demographic trends will exacerbate the situation. Not only will there be a rapid decline in the growth of new labor resources, but the increment to the labor forces will be overwhelmingly non-Russian in origin.

The Soviet energy balance will not favor economic growth, especially with regard to the production of oil. Economists concur in anticipating a decline, even if they dispute its extent. The decline will be sufficient, it seems, to impose major constraints on the Soviet economy and to limit Soviet ability to utilize fully their existing economic capacities.

With regard to agriculture, investments of the Brezhnev era have produced limited and, at best, uncertain results. This sector of the economy will remain highly volatile in the 1980s. Moreover, owing to the decline of long-term growth in other sectors, the unavoidable agricultural fluctuations will have a growing influence on the size of the Soviet GNP.

Just how difficult the Soviet economic situation will be in the 1980s is a matter of conjecture. According to the most pessimistic estimates, periods of low growth will alternate with downright economic stagnation. But even according to more optimistic estimates, the Soviet Union will experience economic pressures far more severe than anything it encountered during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was possible to have, simultaneously, high ratios of investment for economic growth, systematic and considerable increases in military spending, and steady though not always rapid increases in the standard of living of the Soviet people. Something will have to give. Taking into account the increasingly tense international situation and the growing Soviet energy demands, it seems most likely that redistribution of resources will adversely affect the consumer goods industries and lead to a decline in the rate of growth-or even stagnation-in the Soviet standard of living.

During the 1960s and 1970s, labor peace and social stability in the Soviet system were predicated to a large extent on the steady rise in consumption. It would be hardly accurate to speak of a revolution of rising expectations. As a matter of fact, the material expectations of the Soviet population, particularly its working class, are very modest and reasonable when compared to Western counterparts. Nevertheless, during the post-Stalin era the Soviet population, and especially the working class, has learned to anticipate a continuous, if slow, rise in the standard of living. Neither we nor the Soviet leaders can predict how the working class will react to a protracted stagnation of consumption levels and continued shortages of food.

In my opinion, during the 1980s the Soviet leaders will shift the focus of their concern and social policy. From the late 1920s to the early 1950s, Soviet social policy concentrated on achieving mastery and dominance over the peasantry. From the mid-1950s through the 1970s, the main concern was to neutralize the dissident movement and to achieve mastery over the growing professional classes in the Soviet Union-the technocrat, the economist, the expert. During the 1980s, the Party's principal aim will most likely be to extend its mastery over the industrial working class in order to assure labor peace. If so, the institutionalization of workers' power in Poland represents for the Soviet leadership a fearsome possibility, a dangerous and potentially infectious example. One suspects that the specter of "Polonization" hovers in the thoughts of Soviet leaders and elites.


Given these circumstances, Soviet leaders must consider the prospect of using force to change the course of Polish events. Yet it must be clear to them that the direct and indirect costs of invasion would be truly awesome, incomparably greater than those paid for the invasion of Hungary in 1956 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

First, in all probability an invasion of Poland would lead to a virtual state of war with the Polish workers and the Polish nation. While it is highly unlikely that the Polish armed forces would stand united against the invaders, it is very probable that individual major units would resist. All in all the exercise might become a very bloody and protracted affair. Such a military operation in the heart of a divided Europe could prove unpredictable and risky even in its military consequences. The behavior of other Warsaw Pact countries and armies cannot be surely predicted.

Second, the Soviet Union would acquire a staggering burden following the inevitable subjugation of the Polish nation. The Soviet government would not only have to maintain its occupying army, but would have to deliver extensive support to a nation of 35 million people. It would have to feed them, sustain their economy, and service their debt of $22 billion to the West. The Soviet economy could ill afford the strain, given the extent of Soviet domestic difficulties.

Third, an invasion of Poland and the possibility of an attendant massacre of Polish workers will almost certainly shatter the last ties between the Soviet Communist Party and the leading Communist Parties in Western Europe. In all probability the break between the Italian and Spanish Parties and Moscow would become final, and the intensity of their conflict with Moscow would rival that between the Soviet Union and China.

Fourth, an invasion of Poland would destroy one of the foundations, perhaps the cornerstone, of Soviet foreign policy since Afghanistan-the political, cultural and especially economic détente with Western Europe which survived the dissolution of détente with the United States. The Soviet Union has succeeded to a great extent in driving a wedge between the Western allies, separating its détente with Europe from its relations with the United States. This policy holds great political promise for the Soviet Union. It is also an economic necessity. A bloody invasion of Poland would shock both Left and Right in Europe and unite them in condemning the Soviets. It would probably go far to heal the ailing Western alliance and reverse for some time to come the advantages to the Soviet Union of détente with Europe.

Nowhere are the potential repercussions of invasion so serious for the Soviet Union as in the military area. The major case in point concerns the question of Theater Nuclear Forces in Europe. The significant divergence between West European countries and the United States on TNF constitutes a principal source of disruption within the Western alliance. The United States, and especially the incoming Reagan Administration, regards the deployment of TNF in Europe as a first priority and a factor that will strengthen the Western bargaining position in negotiations with the Soviet Union. The West European countries regard progress in negotiations on arms control with the Soviet Union as their first priority and the very precondition for the introduction of TNF into Europe. They have tied their consent for the deployment of TNF specifically to ratification of SALT II. This West European position on TNF afforded some consolation to the Soviet Union when SALT II was not ratified. A Soviet invasion of Poland would most probably alter the West European governments' policy in favor of the introduction of TNF without SALT II.

Fifth, an invasion of Poland at a time when the new Reagan Administration is beginning to define its global policies would ensure a choice of direction most injurious to Soviet interests. It would reinforce the tendency to stress military buildup over arms control, to intensify the strategic rearmament of America and the deployment of TNF, to expand the capabilities of the Rapid Deployment Force, and to accelerate the search for U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf. It would also step up the momentum toward closer American-Chinese relations set underway during the last year of the Carter Administration and which now appears to face a less certain future, at least during the early part of the Reagan Administration. The invasion of Poland would doubtless create such revulsion in the United States that the anti-Soviet mood that helped Reagan into office would intensify significantly and facilitate the passage of military programs.

Finally, an invasion of Poland would surely affect the scale and nature of the Soviet military threat to NATO. It is quite possible, for example, that close to one million Soviet troops might be used for the invasion, and that a large part of these, say 300,000, would remain in Poland as an occupation force. In the short run this might mean some thinning of the 22 Soviet divisions in East Germany that now form the spearhead of the Soviet military posture directed against NATO. But the overwhelming likelihood is that the Soviets would call up or retain reserves to make up the difference rapidly, and the very state of mind revealed in a decision to invade could hardly be reassuring to the members of NATO. So there should certainly be no reason to let up in NATO's present increased defense program but on the contrary every reason to reaffirm and carry through that program, and possibly to increase the number and readiness of troops stationed in the Federal Republic of Germany.

It is thus clear that calculations of the direct and indirect, short-range and long-range consequences and implications of the invasion of Poland make such intervention the Soviet leadership's most difficult foreign policy decision in the post-Stalin era. This is why I believe that the threshold of Soviet tolerance for developments in Poland will be relatively high. An invasion would occur only in extreme circumstances and only after Soviet leadership had decided that the situation in Poland could not be salvaged by any other means.


As of mid-January 1981 the Soviet leadership still has reason to think that an accommodation can be reached between the Polish government and the workers whereby the workers will consent to de-escalate their demands. The Soviet leadership still has reason to hope that both the erosion of the workers' will and unity and the consolidation of the Polish communist leadership can be achieved through a series of measures such as co-optation, compromise, intimidation and the threat of invasion. Yet there remain at least three situations in which a Soviet invasion would be virtually unavoidable.

According to the first such scenario, demands of the workers escalate, the Polish government resists those demands, the workers call for strikes and possibly a general strike, the workers and students take to the streets, and the Polish government cannot use its own army and loses control of the situation.

According to the second scenario, the Polish government's resistance erodes under the pressure of workers' demands and the workers gradually attain virtual control of the factories and veto power over governmental policies.

According to the third scenario, a transformation takes place within the top echelons of the Communist Party and the Party embraces the demands of society: that is, a situation like that of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

How can these three situations be avoided? In my view the principal hope rests with the Polish Catholic Church. The Church looks upon an invasion of Poland as a threat to the physical survival of the Polish nation. It has not played a key role in recent Polish events, but has remained on the sidelines, extending moral support to the workers, for the most part observing and waiting. But toward the end of 1980 the Church did attempt to influence the contending Polish forces in the direction of moderation. If, in 1981, the unrest continues and workers' demands and the spontaneity of their expression increase, or if opposition to compromise should predominate within the government and Party leadership-either of which would surely enhance the chances of Soviet invasion-then the Church would probably bring the full weight of its authority to bear. A Church appeal to government and workers for moderation in the name of the national interest and unity would in all probability be heeded by both sides in Poland, and their response would gain precious time to attain at least a partial stabilization of the situation and to delay or forestall a Soviet decision to intervene.

One other institution in Poland might contribute to forestalling an invasion: the Polish armed forces. The Polish Army is a professional one. It accepts the primacy of the Party and is not normally involved in politics. In the present abnormal situation, however, its role in the political process has apparently increased, and its influence among the population has grown, thanks to its neutrality in recent months. An important December statement of the Polish Military Council concerning the dangers before Poland was, in fact, an appeal for calm in the struggle between workers and Party. At the same time it represented an assurance to the Soviet Union that should the government fail to cope with disorder, the Polish Army would this time be willing and ready to quell disturbances in an effort to prevent an invasion. Whether the Army can act effectively, however, depends decisively on the scale of unrest. An army composed largely of conscripts from the peasantry and working class cannot be used reliably to quell massive disorders supported by a majority of workers organized in the "Solidarity" union. The Army can be effective only in combatting and neutralizing regional disorders, against which reliable elite units can be used.

The United States and its Western allies can do very little to prevent a Soviet invasion of Poland. In the short term, they can also do very little to influence the situation inside Poland, except for extending humanitarian aid and credit as they have done during the autumn emergency. But should an invasion not take place, in the long term the United States and West European countries can significantly contribute to the constructive evolution of Polish development.

The economic question is crucial here, given what the Poles need and what we can offer. The governments of the United States and Western Europe, however, should not pursue a policy of extending credits without limits and conditions, for that would be throwing money into a bottomless barrel.

In my opinion, the proper policy for the United States is to act through a consortium formed with the West European states and especially the Federal Republic of Germany. This consortium would extend to Poland a graduated line of credit and aid in the amount of several billion dollars over the next four to five years, tied to a policy of serious economic reform by the Polish government. There should be a tacit understanding between the Poles and the consortium that particular installments of credit and aid would be forthcoming only to the extent that the Polish government proceeds step by step and quite rapidly to restructure its economic policies and system. It is in the best interests of the United States and Western Europe to ensure that the Polish experiment works. The policy proposed here would provide significant incentives to make it work.


It is extremely difficult to imagine a peaceful solution to the Polish events and a peaceful transformation of the Polish system that would allow greater freedom for society while preserving the political monopoly of the Communist Party. Everybody in Poland-worker, intellectual and Party member-knows that radical changes in the system are needed if Poland is to avoid economic and political bankruptcy. But at the same time, everybody knows, or is learning, that such radical changes are highly unlikely and may even be impossible owing to the Soviet military veto. This gap between the necessary and the possible is the reality of the Polish situation, and the measure of the gravity of the crisis.

We do not know whether the Soviets have decided to intervene in Poland. There are a number of options open to them short of full-scale invasion. There is the option they have already selected-to mass troops along Polish borders as a means of intimidating the workers and strengthening the backbone of the Polish leadership in resisting the workers' demands. The effectiveness and workability of this option will decline with time, however.

A second option involves the measured escalation of pressure by conducting military maneuvers on Polish soil. This action will push the Polish leaders to intensify their intimidation of the workers' movement. A third option would be most advantageous to the Soviet Union but highly doubtful in its effectiveness: Soviet troops would watch at the Polish border while the Polish Army and security forces themselves attempted to settle the situation.

A Soviet invasion of Poland would signal that Soviet leaders regard the workers' gains as irrevocable and the Polish Party thoroughly compromised by its vacillation and conciliatory attitude. It would signal that leaders in the Soviet Union and other East European communist states, particularly East Germany and Czechoslovakia, regard the existence of independent trade unions with even limited powers as incompatible with the concept of a communist state.

But a Soviet invasion of Poland would signal even more. It would tell us how much the Soviets fear their own working class, how much they fear for the stability of their East European empire. It would tell us that these fears are so profound that in the last analysis the Soviet Union is prepared to accept substantial and even irreversible losses in the international arena. Only a government that seriously doubts its own stability and that of its client states would deny the loyal communist leadership of Poland the time and latitude to manage its domestic problems. A leadership that is so insecure in its own country and empire presents grave dangers for states outside its sphere of influence, dangers magnified by the vast military power at its disposal. It will be extremely difficult to reach agreements with such a leadership, that is apprehensive as well as arrogant, on the regulation of competition in a turbulent world.

1 A rough translation would be: "from a class in itself [within the system] into a class for itself."


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  • Seweryn Bialer is Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and Director of its Research Institute on International Change. He is the author of numerous works on the Soviet Union, of which the latest is Stalin's Successors.
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