1990s >> 1990 >> no-1027-march-1990

From Privilege to Profits

On a recent visit to Poland I stayed, first, in Warsaw, then moved to Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) in the south-west. In both cities, my main contacts were with the Polish Socialist Party (Democratic Revolution). This is a minority political party, opposed to the Solidarity government of Mazowiecki. It originated in a breakaway from the PSP, led by Jan Lipski, a revival of the old social-democratic, reformist PSP. At its first congress in December 1989 it adopted a new programme, and from this it is worth quoting their analysis of “Polish changes”:

“The alliance concluded between the opposition elite and the nomenklatura rests upon an agreement on a pro-market and pro-capitalist course of change in the economy. The immediate result of this has been the rescue of the ruling nomenklatura at the price of the admission of part of the opposition to power. At the same time, Solidarity has been transformed from an organisation struggling for the rights and interests of the workers into an instrument for wielding power. This is expressed in the conception of the union as a partner in government. In reality it has had to become a mechanism for transmitting orders from the government to the workers . . . The nomenklatura has realised that the previously existing system of rule over society has broken down and has executed indispensable manoeuvres to adapt . . . Part of its privileges are being exchanged for the profits arising from ownership, rather than political authority.”

This makes a lot of sense. It helps explain Jaruzelski’s sudden craving for “democracy” and power-sharing as being due to the ruling nomenklatura’s need for some sort of survival strategy. Last year Gorbachev declared that Russian troops would not be used to prop up unpopular regimes in Eastern Europe. Without Moscow’s support, and facing up to unpopular economic reforms, the nomenklatura needed some other prop, and Solidarity’s bosses could deliver the votes.

Secondly, the old “official unions” which had previously functioned as “a mechanism for transmitting orders from the government to the workers” were completely discredited. They served as a part of  management, disciplining the workers and urging them to .increase productivity. But now that they no longer had sufficient support or credibility to be effective a new organisation was needed to take their place. Solidarity was happy to oblige.

The third point to note is that the nomenklatura – the Party officials, government apparatchiks and bosses of all sorts – are determined not to go under. A free market and a private enterprise system is taking the place of the old, corrupt and inefficient “planned economy”. Successful adaptation will require them to become capitalists and ideology is not going to stand in their way. Some have already set up private companies and are taking over the assets of state enterprises. Opportunism was a characteristic of Lenin. It continues to characterise Lenin’s heirs.

The workers’ position remains the same as before – working for wages while others reap the profits. Exploitation is always exploitation, and it doesn’t matter at all whether the bosses are organised as a private company, a public corporation or a party committee. Whatever the arrangement, what we get are mere wages; what they get is all our unpaid labour.

Importance of Democracy
PSP(DR) actively supports efforts to put pressure on Solidarity to hold democratic elections, long overdue. Although Solidarity was set up in 1980 as a democratic organisation, it long ago ceased being that and, as an organisation, has operated just like the Communist Party, with the leadership deciding policy over the heads of the members.

My impression is that the people I met liked our Party’s consistent and thorough-going opposition to vanguardism and to Lenin’s elitist view that workers need to be told “what’s what” by intellectuals and “experts”. They asked about how our Party is constituted and organised, and seemed to approve our insistence on democratic organisation, with our policy decided by the membership at conference, and our executive committee and party officers being required to comply with conference decisions.

I was asked if we were Trotskyists. There wasn’t much time, so I dealt with this bluntly by saying that any who call themselves Trotskyists have to answer for the suppression of the workers at Krondstadt in 1921.

Another point which had to be discussed was our opposition to reformism and refusal to ally ourselves with non-socialist organisations. Here we differ from the PSP(DR). Their programme includes a lot of immediate demands. In particular, they advocate “self-management”. At enterprise level, this suggests that workers’ representatives can work in tandem with management. The PSP (DR) also intend that workers’ self-management representatives should play a role in regional government and form a separate chamber in the Sejm (parliament). They do not specify how this would function in relation to the rest of parliament or what its powers and responsibilities would be.

This is to suggest that the state could be transformed to operate in the interests of the whole community. Tinkering about with constitutional changes does not change the reality of the system.

Fighting Solidarity
Another group I met was Fighting Solidarity, a group which operates underground, having little confidence in the success of perestroika in Russia. Like the PSP(DR) it campaigns for democratic elections in Solidarity but its ideas have little in common with ours. Essentially they are liberals, with a strong belief in such vague values as freedom, equality, brotherhood, and human rights. Liberal too in their belief in “natural market regulators”.

As I considered Poland’s worn-out pre-war trams, the drab half-empty shops, the archaic telephone system, well, I must admit I thought they might have a point. At least, in England you can get lavatory paper quite easily in the shops. But then I returned to England. And in this happy land I saw beggars in the Tube stations and teenaged jobless and homeless in London’s Cardboard City. The “natural market regulators of supply and demand” achieved that. Somehow I don’t think the grass is greener on either side of the fence. It never is for the working class.

What we would say to Fighting Solidarity and those who think like them in Poland and the other parts of the Russian empire is this: Do not deceive yourselves. Your problems as workers will not be solved merely by shaking off Moscow role. Free enterprise capitalism has precious little to do with the ideals you cherish.

In conclusion, the fact that ours is a movement with a clean and honest record where Leninism and dictatorship are concerned – our critical stance maintained over many decades has been shown to be right – will surely open many doors for us in Eastern Europe and Russia at this time of change.

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