Poland has always been something of a maverick in the "Eastern bloc." In 1989 it again lived up to that reputation. Its ruling party, the Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, or PZPR), became the first in Eastern Europe to come to terms with the inexorable erosion of its power and of its ultima ratio, the specter of Soviet military intervention. In an act that was as dramatic as it was unprecedented, the party gave up its hallowed "leading role"-that is, its monopoly on power-and agreed, at first de facto and eventually de jure, to reconstitute itself as a "loyal opposition" within a genuine if nascent parliamentary system.

The transition from one-party dictatorship to constitutional pluralism was neither swift nor smooth. It was preceded by several months of fractious and desultory talks between the government and the Solidarity-based opposition that culminated in the "roundtable" negotiations of February-April 1989. The opposition insisted upon the re-legalization of Solidarity and the acceptance of its founder, Lech Walesa, as the government's negotiating partner. Since the official media had long since dismissed Solidarity as an organization that had virtually ceased to exist, these conditions were hard for the party to swallow, especially so for its hard-line apparatchiki (popularly known as beton-concrete). The OPZZ (Ogólno-Polskie Zwiazki Zawodowe), the officially sanctioned trade union federation, also resisted as did otherwise "reformist" but bitterly anti-Solidarity party leaders such as Mieczyslaw Rakowski (first secretary of the PZPR since July 1989).

Rakowski's hostility dated back to his abrasive confrontations with Solidarity in 1981, when he served as General Wojciech Jaruzelski's "contact man" with Solidarity and opposition circles in general. In September 1988 he was named chairman of the Council of Ministers and immediately launched a two-pronged policy: to put teeth into the program of economic renewal, badly botched by his predecessor, Zbigniew Messner, and to contain the growing power of the opposition.1

Both these attempts came dismally to grief. Inflation continued to soar, productivity declined even further, and patchwork solutions, such as increasing the import of consumer goods, had to be scrapped for lack of hard currency.2 The country had already experienced two waves of industrial strife in May and in August; as 1988 drew to a close it was on the verge of yet another and possibly far more violent explosion. Public anger was heightened in late October when the Rakowski government announced its plan to close the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, birthplace of Solidarity. On the face of it, to shut down so grossly unprofitable an enterprise made good economic sense and was congruent with the principles of marketization embraced by Rakowski. Yet the timing of the announcement and the choice of precisely that enterprise could have only fueled public anger. To delay a government-opposition roundtable any longer, therefore, was to play with fire.

At the end of December, a plenary session of the PZPR Central Committee was the scene of acrimonious debate between the hard-liners and the pragmatically minded "reformist" members of the committee. The latter, who were in favor of the roundtable, finally prevailed, but only after some of them, including Jaruzelski, threatened to resign. Rakowski, catlike in his ability to land on his feet, asserted that the time had come "to look at reality" straight in the face and not indulge in "wishful thinking." In words that would come back to haunt him, Rakowski added:

Marxism says that the system that creates superior conditions for economic progress is the better one. Either socialism will become this sort of a system, capable of satisfying political and everyday aspirations, particularly of the younger generation, or it will pass into history as an experiment that failed.

Jaruzelski, hardly a "reformer" but determined to be known by present and future generations as the man who delivered his country from fratricidal bloodshed, affirmed his commitment to "the aspirations of working people . . . for political representation" and to the "development of our economy and the stability of our state." When asked whether he would meet with Walesa, the general again fixed his gaze on history and tersely replied, "a politician never says never." Jaruzelski's concept of how a politician behaves apparently had changed since the days of martial law.

II

The decision of the Central Committee to allow Solidarity's reinstatement was a momentous political breakthrough. In effect, the party opened the door to a thorough review of its entire historical record. For fully two months participants of the roundtable (58 in all) concentrated on two issues: past failures and possible solutions.

A detailed examination of Poland's paramount problem-the steady disintegration of its economy-is beyond the purview of this article.3 Suffice it to say that since the early 1980s Poland's net production and standard of living have been far below their 1978 levels, and that in 1989 inflation reached triple-digit figures. Whatever their other differences, nearly all Polish economists agreed that there were only two solutions: converting the centralized economy to a market-based one, and implementing commensurate political reforms (such as emasculating the entrenched administrative and political apparat, diluting censorship, allowing freedom of association and vesting more power in representative bodies).

 

Proposals for some form of "mixed" economy had been fielded by leading Polish economists ever since the late 1950s, only to be scuttled repeatedly by an apparat fearful of political consequences. In this respect, Poland was distinctively different from some of its neighbors. János Kádár, for instance, felt secure enough in 1968 to overcome Hungarian bureaucratic resistance and force through some rudimentary economic reforms, as well as a dose of political liberalization, under the slogan "who is not against us is with us." In Czechoslovakia, during the "Prague Spring" of 1968, even some conservatives proved receptive to the notions of Ota Sik and other "socialist market" economists.

 

Repression was one side of the coin, liberalization the other: Regimes that could afford to use force could also afford to dispense with it.4 In Poland, however, each successive ruling elite was hounded by an abiding sense of weakness and lack of legitimacy, leaving it averse to both outright repression and genuine liberalization. Since the 1950s, every outbreak of discontent was followed by waves of arrest and harassment-and then by promises to turn over a new leaf. The promises were invariably broken, paving the way for yet another explosion.

Martial law repeated this pattern. In January 1982, barely a month after its imposition, Poland's parliament approved a program of economic reform. Enterprises, released from daily control by centralized ministries, were to be guided by the principles of "independence, self-management and self-financing." The regime paid scant attention to the new legislation, in fact countenancing even greater centralization and bureaucratic muddle. Tough economic measures, such as cutting wages by 25 percent, were promoted. They enabled a reallocation of economic sources and improvement of overall economic performance. But reform was left to wither on the vine.

Martial law was formally lifted in 1983, though some of its most repressive provisions were incorporated in the country's criminal code at the same time. In September 1986 Jaruzelski declared an amnesty for political prisoners. The government further pledged not to "discriminate against" anyone "for his or her convictions," to relax censorship and to enact new electoral laws for "people's councils" (local administrative bodies) and eventually for the Sejm.

Most of the measures turned out to be more sham than substance. While censorship was relaxed and petty harassment of opposition figures ceased, any attempt to form autonomous organizations was severely proscribed. The government solemnly inaugurated a "Social Consultative Council" to help review the country's most pressing problems and propose congruous legislation. However, with its sessions closed to the press and with no mandate to do more than discuss and advise, the 56-man council became little more than an elitist debating club. Meanwhile the economy stagnated and the government's credibility, such as it was, sank to a new low.

Accordingly Jaruzelski launched a new initiative. In October 1987, he announced a referendum to determine whether the population was in favor of "a full government program for radical economic recovery" and "democratization of political life"-and if so, at what price. The economic recovery would presumably be engineered by "a second stage of economic reforms," whose basic tenets were unveiled for public discussion in July of that year. The putative "democratization of political life" suggested that palliative concessions would be supplanted by full-fledged structural and institutional changes, such as passport regulations guaranteeing free travel abroad, a law on freedom of association, and a new "democratic" electoral law.

Once more, however, the promises outstripped reality. The referendum questions were so broad that the government could claim public sanction for its policies. Aside from the passport regulations, no institutional changes were implemented, and the new electoral law on "people's councils," when finally passed in December 1987, was worded in such a way as to ensure their control by the local party apparat. (Indeed, that is precisely what happened when elections took place in spring 1988.) The government, as if bent on proving that its reputation for distinction rested above all on obtuseness and ineptitude, introduced a "wage and price" policy aimed at freezing wages and imposing drastic increases on the price of food, consumer goods and energy (coal and electricity)-policies that hit hardest the most dispossessed parts of the population.

The results were predictable: a pervasive sense of déjà vu, cynicism, loud grumbling, scathing criticism in the press (both open and underground), the strikes of May and August 1988 leading to the fall of Messner's "wage and price" government, Rakowski's accession to power-and, finally, the roundtable.

III

Before examining the results of the roundtable and the other dramatic events of 1989, let me turn briefly to Solidarity and the Polish political opposition in general.

On August 31, 1980, right after signing the so-called Gdansk agreement, Walesa told an enthusiastic crowd: "We have achieved the most important thing-our independent self-governing trade unions. This is our guarantee for the future." Both parts of this statement were to prove only partially true. As millions of people flocked to Solidarity's banners, the union was transformed into a national movement, at first implicitly and then openly challenging Poland's entire political, economic and social system.5 And the "guarantee" Walesa spoke of evaporated on the night of December 13, 1981, when Jaruzelski placed thousands of Solidarity activists behind bars and barbed wire, thus bringing Poland's "renewal" chapter to an end.

From that time on-and to this day-the history of Solidarity has been largely that of a movement in search of identity. In the first few months of martial law its leaders, stunned by the blow, consoled themselves with the thought that Solidarity's fate had been a foregone conclusion. No matter how it had behaved, with greater or less caution, with a more or less conciliatory (or, conversely, intransigent) policy, its end would have been the same.

Yet this assumption begged many questions. Why was the movement caught so off-guard? Why was it not better prepared for Jaruzelski's move, either psychologically or organizationally? What explained the refusal of so many of its nine or ten million members to continue the struggle in the underground? These and other questions eventually led to a soul-searching debate on the causes of the December 1981 debacle, on Solidarity and its adversaries' behavior in 1980-81, and on implications for the future.

For some of the participants in the discussion, such as Adam Michnik, Solidarity's weaknesses were a reflection of its greatest strengths. In an essay written in 1982 while he was under internment, Michnik blamed Solidarity's failure on "a regime which had practiced the art of repression for 37 years." Solidarity had all the virtues and vices of Poland itself, a nation that had for forty years no experience of democratic institutions, no political culture, a nation that had been constantly deceived and humiliated; a nation both cautious and unruly, which valued honor and freedom and solidarity above all, and frequently regarded compromise as capitulation and treason.6

But most of those who took part in the debate eschewed Michnik's approach, which-like many others-smacked of "national megalomania," the tendency to ascribe all of Poland's misfortunes largely if not exclusively to "outside forces." As one writer put it, from here there was but a short step to the resuscitation of the nineteenth-century romantic myth of Poland as "the conscience of Europe, the Christ of nations."7

The enormous achievements of Solidarity and other groups that flourished under its aegis could not be gainsaid. However, many critics deplored Solidarity's weakness for nationalistic symbols and their indiscriminate embrace of the Catholic Church. Others criticized Solidarity's excessive self-confidence and political recklessness, its penchant for making demands that the authorities, with the best of intentions, would be unable to meet, and its failure to distinguish between the PZPR's hard-liners and reformers-that is, between sworn enemies and potential allies. Violent anti-Soviet rhetoric, often tinged with traditional antisemitism, also came in for censure.

One Solidarity adviser challenged the idea that the radicals (or "fundamentalists") within the union had merely kept up with the galloping radicalization of the rank and file. Citing Solidarity's own polls, conducted in the spring of 1981, he demonstrated that the "radicalization of the masses" in fact expressed the institutional interests of a new bureaucracy-the 30,000-45,000 paid functionaries of the union, "efficient organizers of strikes and other acts of protests, something on the order of professional revolutionaries."8 Had Solidarity curbed its well-paid "professional revolutionaries," he wrote, and had it opted for a more gradual strategy, it might have averted the final denouement. Many others echoed this view.

IV

In the light of the role Solidarity was to play in 1989, it is appropriate to examine the impact of this often ruthless self-criticism on Solidarity's subsequent modus operandi. What, in fact, is the legacy of the 1980-81 period?

One obvious and paramount fact is that the "renewal" sank roots in Polish soil. Solidarity has survived. It may or may not have survived as an organization, or as a union, or even as a loosely structured movement, but it has certainly survived as a symbol of broad national and political aspirations and opposition to the communist system. By the summer of 1988, Solidarity's membership and popularity had drastically declined; it was in effect reduced to clusters of activists and intellectual sympathizers, and had to compete with a growing number of other oppositional groups. Yet despite such difficulties, the outlawed trade union sustained its image as the only force capable of mobilizing public support against the regime. When the latter finally agreed to a "dialogue," its only available interlocutor was Solidarity.

The increased prominence of pragmatists or moderates such as the current prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and Solidarity's floor-leader in the Sejm, Bronislaw Geremek, is also a result of the in-house debate. Other factors contributed to it, such as fatigue and growing public distaste for confrontational tactics. Nevertheless, the policies espoused by the moderates-no compromises on basic principles, such as the reinstatement of Solidarity and political democratization, combined with a willingness to negotiate with the regime-reflected a deliberate decision to avoid the crippling mistakes of the past.

Solidarity now has an international reputation as an advocate of restraint and realpolitik, particularly with regard to its attitude toward the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev's decision to abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine certainly hastened the demise of communism in Poland (and elsewhere in Eastern Europe). Equally, however, Solidarity's firm policy of avoiding inflammatory anti-Soviet rhetoric and of recognizing Poland's "international treaties"-i.e., the Warsaw Pact-facilitated the demise of the doctrine. Solidarity's credibility in the West also paid off. Indeed, it was Western moral and economic support that enabled the Mazowiecki government to embark on austerity policies no communist government would dare to pursue.

Still, some of the old practices lingered on-for instance, the tendency to lump together foe and critic, described in 1988 by one distinguished critic, Stanislaw Stomma, as the mirror image of "communist ideology." Another is the still prevalent custom of speaking in the name not only of Solidarity (in itself a rather amorphous body) but of "society" at large. Manichean attitudes-such as ostracism of anyone even vaguely associated or suspected of association with the "Reds"-were bred no less by past experience than by the polarizing climate of martial law. Unhappily, they also indicated that not all of the self-criticism had been taken to heart.

A penchant for arbitrariness, manipulation and secrecy also endures. One Solidarity sympathizer, the political scientist Wociech Lamentowicz, in an essay published in the October 1989 issue of the Paris Polish emigré monthly Kultura, called this a preference for "corporatist" rather than "democratic" rules of behavior. The "liberal-democratic style," Lamentowicz writes, "has never firmly taken root in Polish political culture." Corporatism has been nurtured by "the fight against totalitarianism," by "the exigencies of confrontation" and "the Catholic Church's centuries-long experience with just this style of politics." Among its byproducts is the cult of the leader: Walesa has taken to speaking of himself in the third person-for example, "Lech Walesa is leading you in the right direction," or "as Lech Walesa has correctly and democratically decided" (sic)9-rather at odds with the principles of openness and pluralism espoused by Solidarity.

Nor has Solidarity's close alliance with the Catholic Church been loosened. In a country overwhelmingly Catholic, such intimacy is neither surprising nor unsalutary, provided both sides are aware of their own and each other's institutional interests. Many individual priests offered moral and material succor to the opposition during and after martial law. For several years, churches were the only public places where anti-regime artists could mount their shows and playwrights present their plays.

However, the church as a whole, headed by Primate Józef Cardinal Glemp, has made clear its own agenda, including opposition to "atheism" on school premises, antiabortion legislation and a ban on divorces. Such positions do not necessarily coincide, and in fact are sometimes glaringly incompatible with the ideas espoused by Solidarity. But criticism of the church is generally frowned upon. Glemp's open support for the Endecja (the chauvinistic prewar National Democratic Party) and his blatant antisemitism, while a source of profound embarrassment to Mazowiecki and other moderates, have not been openly condemned by Solidarity's spokesmen. Thus Solidarity Weekly, when still under Mazowiecki's editorship, refused to print an article by the noted Solidarity journalist Konstanty Gebert (Dawid Warszawski) strongly critical of the primate's antisemitic pronouncements.

V

It is with this complex legacy that representatives of Solidarity, along with members of other groups (such as the pro-regime Democratic and United Peasants' parties, the OPZZ, the church and anti- and pro-regime lay Catholic associations), sat down at the roundtable in February 1989.

For the opposition, the paramount goal was institutional political pluralism: Economic reform would come only after the establishment of a democratic decision-making mechanism. Pluralism was also a government priority, but differently defined. For the opposition, pluralism meant power. For the regime, it was a means of investing the opposition with joint responsibility for potentially unpopular policies. Succinctly put, the difference between the two sides was "acute: dissemination of the power to make policy versus dissemination of the responsibility for its results."10

The results of the two-month negotiations, as formalized in the accords signed on April 5, were contradictory.11 Politically, the opposition won a staggering victory. Solidarity was legalized, as was its sister group, Rural Solidarity. The accords recognized the principle of separation of powers within the three branches of government. The legislative branch (National Assembly) would consist of two chambers, the Sejm and the Senate; the executive of a strong presidency; and the judicial of an independent National Judiciary Council composed of judges elected jointly by the Supreme Court, Supreme Administrative Court and the common courts. "Political associations" were to receive legal status, and the Catholic Church was offered unprecedented access to the media and the right to run its own schools.

By creating a Senate, the accords revived an institution that existed in 1919-1939 and was abolished by the postwar government after a fraudulent referendum in 1946. Under the accord, the Senate's 100 members would be elected by a free and direct vote, while in the Sejm, the PZPR reserved for itself and its allies 65 percent of the seats, at least in the first elections (to be superseded in 1992 by completely free elections). The agreement represented a break in the PZPR's monopoly of power-indeed, the beginning of the end of communist rule.

If the political achievements were patent, the economic part of the "package" was rather vague and lacking in guidelines on-as one observer put it-"how to control prices, combat inflation, cope with the international debt [about $40 billion], and simultaneously marketize the economy."12

Several factors explain the stark contrast between the accords' political and economic prescriptions. Solidarity's first priority was political restructuring; that was the sine qua non for all other reforms. The lack of any coherent plan for an economic overhaul reflected profound differences among Solidarity's economic advisers. Finally, Solidarity wanted to ensure for itself the loyalty of its working-class constituents, hence its decision to meet the expectations of that constituency, despite the unrealistic price tag. The third factor encapsulated a crisis of identity that still plagues Solidarity: how to be simultaneously a trade union representing the interests of workers and employees, and a political party exercising power-indeed, what ironically became a political party with a de facto monopoly on power.

The accords were outstripped two months later, when elections gave Solidarity-whose candidates ran under the aegis of the newly constituted "Citizens' Committee"-full control of the Senate (99 of the 100 seats). While the PZPR and its allies obtained their assured seats in the Sejm, almost all of their most prominent leaders, including the then-premier, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, were shown the door. After protracted wrangling, the National Assembly elected Jaruzelski as president, though with a bare one-vote majority.

Events followed each other with dazzling rapidity. The United Peasants' and Democratic parties, once docile "transmission belts" of the PZPR, struck out for independence, thus turning the 65-percent Communist majority into fiction. Solidarity (or, more accurately, the Citizen's Committee), reluctant to take responsibility for potentially unpopular policies, refused the Communists' bid to participate in a "coalition government" headed by the PZPR. The resulting stalemate, however, finally propelled it to take the plunge.

On August 24, Mazowiecki became prime minister. When he named his cabinet two weeks later, the PZPR obtained two portfolios-the ministries of interior and defense-while the smaller parties (now allies of Solidarity) got several others. The defeat of the Communists was complete. From now on, they would have to play that most unfamiliar role-a party in opposition.

VI

Solidarity's victory seemed as complete as its adversary's defeat. Although nearly forty percent of the electorate had abstained from voting, and although many radicals, both within and outside Solidarity, were incensed over what they considered Solidarity's "capitulation to the Reds" (that is, agreeing to Jaruzelski's presidency and to PZPR cabinet members), there was euphoria in the air. Public opinion polls showed that the new ruling team, and especially Mazowiecki personally, enjoyed widespread public confidence. This, the government felt, plus the promises of Western aid gave it the mandate to embark on a course of rapid and comprehensive change.

The euphoria, however, did not last long. In addition to the economic and ecological crises, the new government also faced a staggering array of social problems. Hundreds of thousands of young people, disheartened by the prospect of waiting an average of twenty years for an apartment, and despairing of their future, had already emigrated from Poland; hundreds of thousands more were ready to follow them. The public health system was in tatters. In the countryside eighty percent of the farms, many of them comprising units of less than two hectares, produced little and were mired in poverty. With the deregulation of price controls on food in early September, peasants began to hoard grain and slaughter their cattle, thus deepening the hostility between urban dwellers and the peasantry as a whole.

Indeed, flagrant social inequality has become one of the hallmarks of Poland's nominally "egalitarian" society. At the present time, forty percent of the entire population lives on the brink of poverty, and twenty percent falls below the poverty line. Rakowski's headlong dive into a "market economy" (deregulation of prices, a wage freeze and similar measures) hit this "underclass" hard. Many members of the nomenklatura were encouraged to take advantage of the new legislation (or, more accurately, of loopholes in the existing legislation) to form their own companies, thus enriching themselves at the expense of the economy's public sector, and engendering massive resentments to boot.

The hardships of a deficit economy have fostered a general breakdown of social mores. So did the blatant hypocrisies of the communist rulers and their baneful record of unfulfilled promises. In the words of the doyen of Polish sociologists, Jan Szczepanski, the results have been "the loss of a common system of values, the disintegration of moral principles . . . [leading] to social chaos, the inability to undertake purposeful and effective action, dishonesty in transactions and egoism."13 According to the editor of a weekly newspaper, a notion of "primitive egalitarianism"-that is, equal opportunities for all-is shared by a large part of the population, which is why elite privileges have been so strongly resented. On the other hand, "speculation," once suspect, now meets with social approval. As Tomasz Jezioranski, an editor of the prestigious weekly Zycie Gospodarcze, told me last October, "Everyone wants to be a cwaniak" (loosely, wheeler-dealer).

In this context of intense economic and social stress, political life has blossomed. With its credibility at an all-time low and with the defection of its one-time allies, the PZPR has been undergoing a severe crisis of conscience. This is nothing new. In the past, after every debacle the party invariably created a (new) commission to evaluate its "mistakes and shortcomings." A report would be issued and just as surely would be disregarded.

This time, however, the crisis was unprecedented in scale. Hundreds of thousands of members have quit the party. Many who remain are working on ideological platforms designed to turn the PZPR into a "genuine representative of the left," democratic and (as nearly all the platforms portray themselves) rooted in the legacy of the prewar Polish Socialist Party (PPS). At the congress scheduled for January 1990, the PZPR-like the communist parties of Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia-will no doubt change its name and may well split into two or three competing groups. In the meantime, what popularity the party still enjoys derives from its vigorous opposition to some of the new government's economic policies.

The most notable of the other claimants to the traditions of the left is the OPZZ, with a membership of about seven million (as compared to Solidarity's two million members). It is the catalyst of the "Movement of People of Labor" (Ruch Ludzi Pracy) which aspires to represent the legitimate interests of workers against all "bureaucrats," whatever their ideological provenance. The PPS, too, has resurfaced, but it is already split into three factions, two of them ultra-radical. There are also about seven groups clamoring for the mantle of the prewar Peasant Party.

The resurgence of old parties and ideologies is a natural consequence of the virtual absence of genuine political life under communist rule. It has its alarming aspects-a political proliferation reminiscent of Poland's situation after World War I for example,14 and the increasing prominence of an extreme right that embraces champions of undiluted laissez faire, advocates of a "strong hand," and the Endecja.

One thread unifying such groups is a barely disguised, often altogether explicit antisemitism.15 Though their membership is small, they have earned the imprimatur of Cardinal Glemp, thus potentially enhancing their appeal.16 Such Solidarity leaders as Vice Minister of Education Walter Kulerski, with whom I spoke last October, are worried about the alliance between Glemp and the extreme right, and the attempts to secure special privileges for the church in public education, radio and television. Others are more sanguine. Now that Poles need no longer depend on the church for protection and succor, they believe, its power will wane. Catholics critical of Glemp hope that the liberal elements in the hierarchy will prevail. One way or another, the problem remains on the agenda.

VII

How has the new government coped with all these daunting problems? Does its record thus far suggest that Poland has finally been launched on the road to recovery?

Given its lack of experience in running the affairs of a state, the new ekipa (team) has scored some striking successes. As expected, Mazowiecki's first trip abroad took him to the Vatican, but shortly thereafter he went to Moscow, where he was given a warm and sympathetic reception. Of the two still unresolved issues between the two countries, one is economic: Poland's six-billion-ruble debt to the U.S.S.R.; the other political/historical: the 1940 massacre of 15,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. There is scarcely any doubt that these men were shot on Stalin's orders, but for two years the Soviet members of the mixed Polish-Soviet historical commission that has been investigating the incident have balked at issuing a final report. When Mazowiecki was in Moscow he suggested replacing the existing commission with a bilateral government commission, insisting that the current situation is unacceptable for Poland.

Mazowiecki's courteous reception in the Soviet Union was upstaged by the tumultuous welcome given to Lech Walesa in Western Europe and especially in the United States in November. Walesa and his advisers' major goal was to secure generous financial support. Of the requested $10 billion (in credits, short-term "stabilization" and multiyear loans and reduction of interest payments), Poland is apt to receive about $8 billion, spread over the next three to four years. In view of the dismal record of the early 1970s, when the regime of Edward Gierek squandered huge amounts of Western aid, this is no mean achievement.

There has been marked progress in domestic matters, too, such as health and the revamping of the judicial system. The new legislature has functioned well too, which is particularly impressive given its inexperience. At the same time, the new ekipa has been grappling with its legacy of still-to-be-learned "lessons," such as its inclination to take the support of "society" for granted. As many observers in Poland have pointed out, the results of the June elections indicated the existence of a large "silent minority" capable of becoming a not-so-silent majority under certain circumstances-such as a further decline in living standards. The volatility of public opinion in Poland is proverbial; only two years ago, for instance, the polls indicated that Walesa's popularity was lower than Jaruzelski's. The same could happen again.

In addition, there is the erosion of Solidarity as a trade union, part of its enduring problem of identity. Is Solidarity, or should it be, a trade union, a political party, a national movement, or some kind of hybrid of all three? Perhaps an answer to that question will emerge at the forthcoming congress of Solidarity, to be held sometime in 1990. As in the case of the PZPR congress, fragmentation cannot be ruled out.

The most onerous problem, one which in the opinion of many observers may yet threaten the survival of the present government, is the country's economic system and performance. The economic program unveiled at the end of the year is based on the ideas of the Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has been urging Poland to take a quick "leap into a market economy." According to Sachs, "a carefully prepared shock program must not mean the lowering of living standards." To be sure, it would entail some "costs," such as rising inflation and temporary unemployment, but these would be outstripped by "swift and conspicuous gains."17

Sachs' prescriptions were warmly endorsed by many Solidarity activists, such as Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuron (now minister of labor), and by several economists, most of them (such as the principal author of the program, Vice Premier and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz) with academic backgrounds and few ties to Solidarity. As finally presented to the Sejm, the program envisions unconstrained prices on all goods and services, elimination of all subsidies, rapid phasing out of all unprofitable enterprises, privatization of government property, internal convertibility of the Polish currency, strict curbs on wage increases and rigid adherence to the principle of "the less government interference, the better." The program also assumes the inevitable rise of unemployment, affecting as much as thirty percent of the country's work force. Departing from Sachs' view, it forecasts a precipitous (if "temporary") decline of living standards, ranging from ten to sixty percent.

Many economists vehemently object to the program, including such eminent Solidarity supporters as (now Deputy) Ryszard Bugaj and Professor Jan Mujzel. It has been criticized as vague, unrealistic, "utopian." One of the critics has asked: "Who is to wage the struggle against inflation-workers' self-governments or unions? The world knows of no precedent where unions actively engage in the dismissal of redundant workers."18 Given Balcerowicz's assertion that the government would "do nothing in conflict with liberal [i.e., Chicago School] doctrine," another critic, Mieczyslaw Mieszczanowski, complained that government would restrict itself to "the role of a watchdog over the market system and distributor of help to those who cannot adjust themselves to it." Mieszczanowski went on:

If these words become flesh, this government would be the first in the history of the world to adhere firmly to this doctrine. All developed countries, including those (such as the Federal Republic of Germany) whose governments pay obeisance to the liberal doctrine, apply a wide spectrum of government interventions, such as in resource allocation, in investments, in developing technology, income distribution, pricing, export and import.19

Above all, the critics have called attention to the immense danger of social upheavals if the projected rise in unemployment and cut in the standard of living actually occur.

Some Western economists also have misgivings. One of the program's most glaring omissions, they point out, is the lack of any concrete plans for a "social safety net." The program is virtually silent on the exact nature, instrumentalities and costs of job retraining, unemployment benefits and the like. It also fails to address itself to what most economists have considered one of the major blights of the Polish economy-the plethora of huge government monopolies that stifle any resolute attempt to establish market mechanisms. Monetary stability-the elimination of the "money overhang"-must be implemented immediately, but price reforms, wholesale privatization, the liquidation of unprofitable industries and other measures that will provoke widespread public fear and opposition should come more slowly.

In effect, the program "amounts to all sticks and no carrots," and fails to envision an ongoing "dialogue" with the population.20 The conversion of a centralized command system into a market-based economy is as painful as it is necessary. "Most Poles," in the opinion of The Economist, do not "realize what is coming."21 What is even more alarming is the persistence of "corporatist" or outright authoritarian tendencies. Walesa, for instance, has openly called for "special emergency powers" to enable the government to proceed with its policies without submitting them for discussion to the National Assembly. Wisely, the Mazowiecki government has resisted such calls thus far. How it will behave in the future, if or when social turmoil sets in, remains to be seen. A partial retreat from some of the most onerous provisions of the economic program cannot be ruled out; in fact this is precisely what many Polish economists and officials hope for.

VIII

The changes in Poland, of course, take place in the wider context of the decline of communism in Eastern Europe. A few words on these other nations, therefore, are in order.

The Czechoslovak posters proclaim that it took Poland "ten years" to overthrow the communist regime, while East Germany needed but "ten weeks" and Czechoslovakia "ten days." Each has moved in its own way, mindful of its own historical precedents, political traditions and specific circumstances. Nevertheless, Poland has lived up to its "maverick" credentials, ranking as the country that set a precedent for the others.

Poland's immense problems, while distinctive in many ways, are shared, to a lesser or greater extent, by its neighbors. Massive economic problems hound Hungary; they are only somewhat more manageable in Bulgaria, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. In Romania, the last to join the revolution sweeping Eastern Europe and the only one forced into violence, economic breakdown is matched by the disintegration of the country's political institutions. In addition, unlike the other countries, Romania has had no functioning political opposition ready to provide the necessary leadership and coherent political vision.

Poland's headlong plunge into a market economy will not necessarily be followed by other countries. Hungary has thus far opted for a more gradual approach. In East Germany, which still has surviving left-wing traditions and considerable sympathy for the West German Social Democratic Party, a "social welfare state" may well come into being, perhaps in some form of confederation or even under conditions of outright unification with the Federal Republic. Czechoslovakia may also develop in this direction. (Czechoslovakia's economists have in fact been critical of Poland's economic reforms.)

Fierce nationalism and xenophobia have long been part of Eastern Europe's political culture. These traits pose a danger to the growth of a stable and truly pluralistic democratic order. In welcoming and admiring Eastern Europe's rout of communism, we must not close our eyes to some of the region's potentially insalubrious aspects as well.

The demise of communism in Eastern Europe is likely to have a profound impact on the U.S.S.R. National and secessionist movements have swept the Soviet empire, from the Baltics to Moldavia and the Caucasus. Gorbachev's decision not to send troops to Romania, and the Supreme Soviet's formal repudiation of the Brezhnev Doctrine, raise questions of whether Gorbachev could successfully use force to suppress nationalist movements within the Soviet Union, any more than outside. In the meantime, the demands for secession will no doubt grow-Moldavia, for one, may eventually opt for some kind of association with a new democratic Romania. All these pressures will present Gorbachev, the architect of perestroika and the man most responsible for the demise of communism in Eastern Europe, with a formidable challenge to his skills and possibly even his power.

Finally, what about the role of the West, and especially of the United States? The West European countries have been notably supportive of the East European revolution, and the United States, too, having finally abjured the "evil empire" syndrome, has been demonstrating considerable understanding of and sympathy for the changes in the U.S.S.R. and in the (formerly) "socialist bloc." Democracy in Eastern Europe has come without outside intervention-indeed, with virtually no assistance from the West. But a carefully designed program of Western assistance may well help to shape the future of the post-communist world.

1 The government of Zbigniew Messner resigned in September 1988 after an unprecedented attack on its economic policies, mounted both by the press and deputies of the Sejm.

2 See "Toward De-etatization and Democracy: The Challenge of the 'Round Table' Agreement," by Bartolomiej Kaminski, in Pressures for Reform in the East European Economies, Vol. 2, Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, Oct. 27, 1989, p. 141.

4 It is often forgotten that the martial law imposed by Kádár in 1956 lasted five years, during which at least 2,000 people were executed and perhaps as many as 20,000 were put under arrest. By contrast, martial law in Poland lasted not quite three years and, though severe, claimed few lives. On the other hand, Kádár began making serious political concessions in 1962, while Jaruzelski was unwilling to relax his grip until 1986-87.

5 This was strikingly illustrated by the all-embracing program adopted by Solidarity at its congress in October 1981.

8 Tadeusz Kowalik, "Between Agreement and Conflict: Poland 1980-1981." The quotations are from the text furnished to me by the author. It appeared in an underground journal in 1987.

9 In October 1989, Walesa arbitrarily dismissed the editor of Solidarity Weekly, appointing his own man and causing the entire editorial board to resign. This, as Geremek's press secretary told me, was "nothing short of disaster" (interview, Oct. 21). See "Tygodnik Solidarnosc-opis konfliktu," Gazeta Wyborcza, Oct. 4, 1989.

10 John P. Hardt and Jean F. Boone, Poland's Roundtable and U.S. Options, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., June 1989, p. 14.

12 Kaminski, "Toward De-etatization and Democracy," op. cit., p. 146.

13 "Nauka a aktualne problemy Polski-doswiadczenia i perspektywy" ("Science and Poland's Current Problems-Experiences and Perspectives"), in Nauka Polska, Warsaw, May-June 1989.

14 In 1925, there were 92 registered political parties in Poland. See Antony Polonsky, Politics in Independent Poland, 1921-1939, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 52.

15 Thus, the head of the Union for Realistic Policy, Janusz Korwin Mikke, recently accused "the left Jewish intelligentsia" of "having led Poland into the war with Hitler" (Tygodnik Demokratyczny, Warsaw, Sept. 17, 1989). Elsewhere, Korwin Mikke called for a "general to bring some order into the country" if it continued to drift into "anarchy and chaos" (Odglosy, Warsaw, Oct. 1, 1989)-a sentiment strongly seconded by one of Poland's leading journalists, Stefan Kisielewski (Gazeta Wyborcza, Oct. 15, 1989). Recently, too, the secretary of the new "Polish National Movement" warned that "in ten years people with my views will be hunted down and in twenty they will be tortured and hanged by the Jewish masters of Poland" (Rondo, Warsaw, Oct. 29, 1989). There are about 7,000 Jews in Poland today.

16 According to Glemp, freedom of conscience and religion is a "standard slogan of socialist states that serves to combat religion." If implemented, he has argued, it would sanction activities by such "unacceptable" groups as "Jehovah's Witnesses, Eastern cults and satanists." Kultura, Paris, No. 7-8, 1989, p. 171.

17 Gazeta Wyborcza, Aug. 28, 1989.

18 Pawl Bozyk, "Cudu Nie Bedzie" ("There Will Be No Miracle"), Polityka, Dec. 16, 1989, p. 5.

19 "I Have Serious Doubts," Polityka, Nov. 4, 1989.

20 According to John Hardt, senior specialist in Soviet economics at the Library of Congress and author of many studies on the Polish economy. I am grateful to Mr. Hardt for his help with this section of my article.

21 Dec. 23, 1989, p. 25.

 

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • Abraham Brumberg is the editor of Poland: Genesis of a Revolution, published in 1984. He has written on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for various American and British publications.
  • More By Abraham Brumberg