1960s >> 1968 >> no-762-february-1968

Let Them Eat Cake

In their Open Letter to the Party (see the Socialist Standard, December 1967) Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski analysed the living conditions of workers in “communist” Poland. Using official, Polish-government data they produced a devastating criticism of the state capitalist system in that country. One passage in particular stands out in my mind—that dealing with meat consumption in working class families.

    Polish food physiologists established 4 norms for meat consumption. Norm A, hardly adequate and not recommended for a long period, requires a monthly per capita average of 3.7 Kg. Norm B, adequate and permitting a normal functioning of the organism over a long period, requires 4 Kg. The data on family budgets reveals that in about 23 per cent of working class families the consumption of meat and meat products is below the hardly adequate norm, and in 18 to 19 per cent of such families, it is within the hardly adequate norm but still below the adequate norm.
According to a research project conducted at the Warsaw Motorcycle Factory in 1957, 23 per cent of the workers ate meat for dinner once a week or less, and 25 per cent ate it twice a week. One might suppose that data seven years old are no longer true, but in fact consumption of meat and meat products in 1957 was 43.9 kilograms, a level higher than that of 1960 (42.5 kilograms) and not much below that of 1962 (45.8 kilograms).

As can be seen, the statistics used by these two imprisoned ex-Communists go no further than 1962. But a recent article in the Economist (2.12.67) has presented figures for succeeding years. It shows that the trend in Poland at present is for family incomes to rise. This has resulted not so much from pay increases as from the tendency for more members of the average family to go out to work; thus-the labour force has increased by 1,900,000 in the past seven years. As a measure of the poverty of these working class families it is significant that little of their extra money has been spent on so-called luxuries. Instead they have concentrated on buying more of the basic essentials such as foodstuffs. In fact, food products still account for 47 per cent of total consumer expenditure, the same proportion as before. Due to their new-found “affluence” Polish workers have been eating more meat and it is estimated that in 1967 the average working man just reached the adequate level (norm B). The figure given is 4.3 kilograms/month (52 kilograms/year) for per capita meat consumption, compared to the norm of 4 kilograms/month (48 kilograms/year).

Production in state capitalist Poland, however, is not carried on in order to satisfy the people’s needs and the supply of meat products for the market has lagged behind the new demand. This has meant, in classical capitalist manner, rocketing prices of the different types of meat—increases of 16.7 per cent on average, but even higher in some cases (the price of veal, for example, is up by a third). The effect of all this is, of course, quite obvious. It must once more force per capita consumption of meat down below the level which healthy diet demands. The average worker will now only be able to afford 3.7 kilograms of meat each month (44.6 kilograms/year) — the “hardly adequate” norm — if he spends the same money as before on his food. With working class budgets stretched just as tightly in Poland as they are elsewhere, this means he has little alternative than to tighten his belt.

We could not end without mentioning Stefan Jedrychowski, the chairman of the state planning commission. According to the Economist he has “blamed the current shortages in meat supplies on the Poles’ insatiable appetite for meat”! As always, the barbarities of the capitalist system are only matched by the cynical insolence of those in power.

John Crump