1970s >> 1970 >> no-795-november-1970

Capitalism in Poland

There are about 500 zloty millionaires amongst Poland’s big market gardeners, according to the Financial Times (3 October). As a zloty is only worth a few pence the wealth of a Polish millionaire is “only” £17.000. but their existence shows that there still exists a privileged class in Poland. Says the Financial Times:

Wealth here shows itself in tight bundles of 500 zloty notes, town houses, seaside villas, expensive Western cars, lavish parties, and other more blatant manifestations which from time to time draw bursts of criticism from the official Press. Friends of Pani Barbara estimate that she spends more in one month on massage and beauty treatment than a computer programmer earns in the same period.

It would be a mistake to think that Poland’s wealthy individuals are all private-enterprise market gardeners. Others will have amassed personal wealth out of the bloated salaries they are paid while occupying the top posts in the government, army or industry.

Nor is the existence of millionaires in an allegedly socialist country new. During the last war supporters of Russia were shocked to learn that some people were contributing millions of roubles to Stalin’s war loan. In Britain the Russia Today Society had to rush out a special pamphlet, Soviet Millionaires by Reg Bishop, to try to explain this away. Apparently the first Russian millionaire, Berdyebekov, was. like Mrs. Barbara in Poland today, a farmer.

Bishop never did succeed in explaining what wealthy individuals were doing under “socialism”, but that was because he avoided the obvious answer: there are capitalists in Poland and Russia because these have never ceased to be capitalist countries.