The Third International after Lenin

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gus Hall's "What's happening in Poland?" [1981]

One of the most useful historical nuggets to be found in the newly redesigned website of the Communist Party of Great Britain is the complete series of their 1981-1984 theoretical journal The Leninist

As I looked through the pdf of the first issue, I came across a reprint of Gus Hall's article "What's happening in Poland?"  I was not aware of the article.  Hall's party, the CPUSA, has never posted it on line, and keeps only a few of the "peace, freedom, and detente" book titles from Hall's later years in print.

Hall was one of the chief proponents in the US of "Bill of Rights Socialism," which is only another iteration of Bernstein's old parliamentary revisionism, a rationalized ideological papier mache framework for the CPUSA's unconditional support for the Democratic Party up to this very day.  I suspect Hall would be fully consonant with the Sam Webb CPUSA of today: he would tell us "There is no alternative" to Obama and the Democrats, Trumka and his back-stabbers.

Hall's notes on Poland are of a higher theoretical caliber than anything his party now produces, and contains much useful information on a period that is today too-often telescoped.


What's happening in Poland?

Gus Hall

Before beginning, I would like to
suggest that we all keep in mind that
we are viewing the recent developments
in Poland from afar and that
this may colour our judgements. Not
having the experience or responsibility
of building socialism, our observations,
therefore, must be considered
in a sense as partisan observations
from the sidelines.

It is necessary and important to
discuss these developments because
of the unprecedented efforts of US
and world capitalism to exploit these
developments. The recent developments
in Poland have become a focal
point for all the anti-socialist forces in
the United States and, for that
matter, in the whole world.
These reactionary, anti-socialist
elements are working overtime to
convince people that the developments
in Poland are proof positive
that socialism does not and can not
work. They have seized upon the difficulties
in Poland to "prove" that the
socialist system has failed. And they
are using every tactic, every variation
of the Big Lie and every public outlet
to peddle their vicious slander.
We are interested in Polish developments
for the very opposite reasons.

We know that the truth and the real
facts are proof that the problem does
not lie in the socialist system itself.
Rather, the problems are a result of
some mistakes and weaknesses of the
leadership, mistakes which are in a
sense contrary to some of the principles
of socialist development. The
weaknesses and errors made by the
Polish leadership are not weaknesses
and errors which are inevitable in
socialism. They are products of
conditions unique to the construction
of socialism in Poland.

Historic Framework

To understand what happened in
Poland it is necessary to first place
the current developments in their
proper perspective within a historic
framework. No measurement of the
quality of life in any society is
possible without a consideration of
the basic human rights enjoyed by the

In Poland, there is no unemployment.
Every Polish citizen is constitutionally
guaranteed a job of his or her
own choosing, without fear of ever
being jobless.

In Poland, there is equal pay for
equal work and guaranteed equality
of opportunity. This is one of the
results of the elimination of the
racism and especially anti-semitism
left from pre-socialist Poland.
Every Polish citizen is entitled to
an old-age pension, to disability
benefits, fully paid for by the government.
Every Polish citizen has the right
to housing costing no more than
about 5% of his or her income. There is
no hunger, no poverty, nb real slums.
These achievements must be seen
within the framework that Poland
was one of the countries almost
completely destroyed during the Second
World War. When the Nazis were
defeated and driven out by the Soviet
Red Army, Poland's industries, cities,
towns and villages, hospitals, schools,
farms and livestock had been devastated
and their land lay in ruins.

After the war, the Polish people -
minus the millions who were murdered
and maimed by the Nazis — began
heroically and resolutely to rebuild
their country on a socialist foundation.
They began to build a modern
socialist society in a backward,
industrially retarded country inherited
from capitalism and the remnants
of feudalism.

Restricted by limited natural resources
and burdened by the devastation
of war, within a short span of 36
years the Polish people — with
massive assistance from the Soviet
Union — succeeded in building a
developed socialist society.

Today Poland is a modern society
with a highly productive material and
technical base. Today's Poland has
surpassed most of the old capitalist
countries of the world in production
and overall quality of life. It has built
modern cities and towns, huge apartment
complexes and industrial enterprises,
schools, hospitals, roads,
bridges and dams. It has a modern
power base and transport industry.
The problems and weaknesses in
today's Poland — as in all socialist
countries — must be viewed in the
context that mature socialism has not
yet reached its final stage. It is a
social system in the process of development.
In the building of a new
socio-economic system there are always
some elements of trial and error.
However, socialism in Poland has
unique features, including unique

Socialism in Poland still faces
severe problems, such as the collectivisation
of the agriculture. It must
still resolve the question of churchstate
relations. And at its own level,
Poland faces unique problems in the
development of a higher level of
socialist consciousness.

We shall discuss these in more
detail later.

Thus, although a critical assessment
is appropriate and necessary at this
time, we should keep in mind that
sometimes criticisms of specific weaknesses
eclipse the great and unquestionable
achievements in the course
of socialist construction. To permit
this to occur would be to aid the
enemies of socialist Poland.

A Strike Against Whom?

In discussing the strikes in Poland it
is necessary to keep in mind that
while the number of strikers was large
and the strikes did create serious
problems, the fact remains that the
great majority of the 15-millionmember
Polish working class did not
go on strike. The majority of Polish
workers remained at their jobs, which
tremendously limited the amount of
economic damage and served to
maintain internal peace.

We should note here that in a real
sense any strike in a socialist society
is a contradiction. Under normal
circumstances a strike is not necessary
because management and workers
are on the same side. The means of
production are publically owned.
They are the property of all the
workers and people. All production is
for ..the common good and the wellbeing
of all. There are no private
corporations and no private profits.
There is no class contradiction between
management and workers. All
profits, all wealth produced, go to
advance the living standards and to
satisfy the cultural and spiritual
requirements of all the people.
So when there is a strike, in a sense
workers are striking against themselves,
against their own self-interests.
When settlements are negotiated,
the negotiations are not between
adversaries but are discussions about
mutual problems, mutual interests,
mutual benefits and, therefore, mutual

When a strike does take place the
basic cause is either lack of understanding
in management or a lack of
socialist consciousness by the workers.
In the Polish situation, it seems
there was a lack of understanding by
both sides.

What made the situation ever more
explosive was the lack of contact, the
lack of communication with the
workers on the part of the people in
management, the Party and trade
union leaders. Because of this missing
link corrective measures were not
taken in time to prevent the explosions.
Tensions and resentment had
evidently built up for a period of time
until — rightly or wrongly — the
workers felt they had no other
alternative but to take drastic and
dramatic measures to call attention to
their grievances.

The demand for independent trade
unions must be seen in the context of
the worker's frustration and loss of
confidence in the established trade
union leaders. It must also be seen in
the context that they are not asking
for trade unions independant of the
socialist structure of Polish society. It
is most important to take note of the
fact that the strikers and the strike
leaders made it absolutely clear that
they were not striking against the
socialist character and foundation of
the socialist state. They were not
denying or challenging in any way
the leading role of the Polish United
Workers Party (PUWP). They were
asking for redress of grievances
within the existing socialist structure
of Poland.

This was so despite the fact that
anti-socialist elements, both internally
and externally, were very busy
indeed. These anti-socialist elements
included the subversive activities of
the CIA and the counter-revolutionary
forces throughout the world, and
especially those working out of West

These reactionary forces have a
long-term strategy for destabilising
the socialist world, for pushing individual
socialist countries off the socialist
path and out of the socialist orbit.
They have not given up on Poland or
any of the socialist countries. But
they now think they have a foot inside
Poland's door. So the counter-revolutionary,
subversive efforts will continue
and even escalate. This is not to
deny or in any way diminish the very
real internal weaknesses and errors of
the Polish leadership, and especially
the trade union leadership, including
the fact that the union leadership
itself was often selected through
undemocratic methods. However, we
want to take note at this point that all
the propaganda, the slander and
falsehoods being spewed out in media
headlines, by monopoly circles and
their ideologues and by the AFL-CIO
leadership can not negate the progressive
role of the unions in Poland.

Hypocritical 'Friends of Poland'

It is difficult to compare unions and
trade union rights in socialist countries
with those in capitalist countries
because American workers do not
even dream of such extensive social
rights. They could not even imagine
their rights being upheld by laws.
As we know, workers in the United
States must wage war with the
monopoly corporations for even small
benefits, for every improvement in
their working conditions, for every
advance in living standards, for every
wage increase. American workers
would not even entertain the thought
of getting paid full wages while on
strike, as the Polish workers were. US
workers are blocked, restricted and
hamstrung by such anti-labour laws
as the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-
Griffin Acts, a multitude of right-towork
laws and every conceivable
obstacle in union organising and the
right to strike.

The support of Polish strikers by
monopoly circles, Carter and Reagan
and the top union leadership is
nothing but the height of hypocrisy.

They have never supported strikes in
the United States, or in any other
capitalist country for that matter. But
when strikes occur — as they rarely do
— in socialist countries, they are the
first to pick up the picket signs.
The anti-socialist forces cover up
their real motives with hypocritical
rhetoric about concern for the human
and trade union rights of Polish
workers. It is interesting that even the
most reactionary forces find it necessay
to hide their anti-socialist aims. It
is a back-door admission that open
anti-socialist criticism would not be
welcomed by Polish workers.

Even Lane Kirkland, president of
the AFL-CIO, in his appeal to the
AFL-CIO unions to set up a 'Polish
Workers Aid Fund', felt compelled to
defend the statements and actions of
the AFL-CIO leadership: "The AFLCIO
was not involved... in the strike
by Polish workers". And to cover up
the anti-socialist aims of his appeal
he even felt forced to disclaim any
attack on Poland's socialist system:
"We are not interested in attacking,
undermining or calling into question the
economic system that prevails in any
other country in this world, including
Poland... whether it be capitalist, communist
or whatever. And our quarrel, insofar
as the AFL-CIO is concerned... does not
relate in any way to such matters as who
owns the tools and means of production.
To us that is really irrelevant."
Kirkland claims that his only
interest is the 'humanisation of the
system' which would 'serve the
cause of peace... detente... or normal
constr eti ve relations between nations.'
If this is so, why then has the AFLCI()
leadership never in a generation
supported any strikes in capitalist
countries, including the United States?

Why didn't they appeal for strike
funds for the workers of South Africa
and Chile and, as a matter of fact, for
workers right here, where workers
have frequently been involved in
long, hard strike battles — often
without the help of strike funds? And
since when has Lane Kirkland, one of
the most outspoken advocates of
bloated military budgets, war production
and military superiority over the
Soviet Union, become the spokesman
for 'peace, detente and normal constructive
relations between nations?'
Support for policies of US imperialist
agression can not lead to 'constructive
relations between nations'.

The truth is that monopoly and its
labour stooges will exploit every
problem, every weakness, every
mistake to undermine Poland's socioeconomic
system, the political and
social basis of Polish society.

The Sources of the Mistakes

What then is the truth about the real,
underlying causes of the strikes and
disturbances in Poland?
The fact is that there is no single
cause. Each element in and of itself
would not have caused the explosion.
What brought it to a head was the
coming together — the convergence -
of a number of factors.

The causes are mostly internal
domestic problems, but there are also
some external factors. While there is
no question that foreign counterrevolutionary
forces were at work,
basically the causes are internal.
The weaknesses and mistakes are
not the product of any evil intent. In
fact, the mistakes of Poland's leadership
flow from the very best of intentions.
And interestingly enough, they
are weaknesses that have appeared in
a number of socialist countries in the

The intent of the Polish leadership
was and is to build a modern
industrial economic base as fast as
possible in order to raise the living
standards and overall well-being of
the people accordingly. There is
nothing wrong with this motivation.
It is most admirable. In fact, it is the
ultimate and loftiest goal of every
socialist society and every Communist

However, such an approach and
the accompanying policies and practices
must not attempt to skip stages
of reality, to ignore what is economically
and socially realistic and possible.
It does not matter how good the
intentions are if they lead to policies
that create instability and imbalances.
When the subjective factors override
and dominate the estimate of
objective reality, imbalances will
necessarily follow. As a result of an
unrealistic approach in Poland imbalance
occurred between the rapidly
increasing aspirations and expectations
of the workers and people and
the ability of the society's productive
capacities to satisfy them. A distortion
developed between the plans,
designs and economic decisions and
the ability of the economy to implement

An imbalance arose between the
forced acceleration of economic
growth and sweeping modernisation
of industry and the resources, funds
and capabilities of the existing economic,
scientific and technological
base to carry them out. Concretely,
how did these imbalances develop in

Especially after 1970, the Polish
leadership instituted a massive drive
for accelerated industrialisation. This
was based mainly on loans. Loans
from the Soviet Union are granted at
very low interest rates. But the loans
from the banks in the United States,
West Germany, Great Britain and
France are short-term loans, with
much higher interest rates.

The total debt owed to capitalist
countries rose to over $20 billion
dollars. Just the interest on these
loans was $2 billion per year. Over
one-third of Poland's income from
exports went to pay interest on past
loans. To get an idea of how the
capitalist banks viewed and used
these loans, let me quote from a recent
New York Times article:

"In a far-reaching action early last year
(1979) the Polish government agreed to
supply the Western banks with more
economic data, and to provide it more
rapidly, under confidence-building arrangements
designed to keep the money
flowing to insure repayment of loans. The
more active monitoring has given the
banks the opportunity to press their case
for changes in the mix of Polish economic
policy. Banks have been concerned for
some time over the stress of the Poles on
policies such as food subsidies that lead
toward higher consumption instead of
increasing foreign exchange reserves... It
could have been pressure from Western
banks in the latest credit negotiations that
led to the Polish decision to increase meat
prices which in turn triggered the strikes."
It seems the stacking of loan on top
of loan had a point of diminishing
returns. An increasing percentage of
the new loans went to pay for the
interest on old loans.

Much of the loan money went for
the import of grain and other food
products and as payment for new
industrial plants, tools, machinery
and other means of production. It was
intended that the huge new enterprises
and industries would largely
pay off these loans. However, many of
these plants were not yet producing
when payments became due.
Within a five-year period, from
1970 to 1975, Poland's investment in
plants and machinery increased two
and one-half times. It is now obvious
that such a rapid pace of development
was not a true reflection of the
realities, the real possibilities and
potentials of Poland.

One of the measures taken by the
Polish government to help correct this
situation was to withdraw government
subsidies for meat products,
which resulted in a rise in consumer
prices. This was the immediate factor
that triggered the strikes.

Within a 10-year period the wages
of basic workers were increased by
109%, while the productivity of the
workers increased by 58%. This
increase in productivity was excellent.
But it was not good enough to
match the 109% wage increase. Also
the wage increases were outpacing
the consumer goods available at the
market. Here again, good intentions
were clearly the motivating force.
The wage increases were seen as
material incentives. A socialist society
needs a well-balanced mix of
material and moral incentives. As the
socialist personality develops the part
played by moral incentives becomes
an increasingly greater motivating

Balance Between Objective and Subjective

It is now clear that a socialist
economy can not function normally
and efficiently for long with such
imbalances. Wages and production,
loans and production must be in
balance. There can not be a large
discrepancy between consumer demand
and the actual supply of goods.
There must be a stable ratio between
the accumulation fund — a fund that
is necessary for payment of debts,
expansion and modernisation of industry,
new construction and accumulation
of necessary reserves — and
the consumption fund, the resources
available to satisfy the material and
cultural needs of the people in a given

In other words, there needs to be a
rational way — based on a realistic,
objective assessment — of combining
the goal of improving living standards
today with the goals of tomorrow,
of balancing the supreme goal of
satisfying more fully people's material
and cultural requirements not
only in the current fiscal year, but in
the future. Thus, under socialism the
supreme goal of social production
must form an organic unit with the
means available for its achievement.
At all times there need to be adequate
methods of assuring that the subjective
factors do not override the
objective conditions, those arising in
the economy irrespective of human

Economic planning and management
need to be based on an analysis
of objective processes, trends and
available possibilities for growth and

In order to accomplish this in a
socialist society needs mass participation
in planning, management,
administration and implementation
at all levels. There must be constant
discussion, consultation and exchanges,
and above all there must be active
participation of the workers at the
factory level in the process of decision
making. The workers must be deeply
involved in deciding matters pertaining
to management, improvement of
working and living conditions, use of
funds for both developing production
and for social and cultural purposes
and financial incentives. This is the
deepest meaning of socialist democracy,
of democratic centralism. This
vital link was weak in Poland.
Some people ask: why did good
intentions and the drive for maximum
industrialisation get out of touch with
reality? One reason is lack of good,
sound planning. Another is some
wisE.fu1 thinking translated into economic
planning and decisions that
could not be realistically implemented.
In other words, subjective wishes
outstripped objective possibilities.
And much of the unrealistic good
intentions were fed by feelings of
unrealistic nationalism.

Additional factors that added to
the negative developments in Poland
were: severe droughts which led to
lower than usual harvest yields; the
problems in the import of raw
materials and grain and the rise in
prices for these items; the increasing
price of oil Poland buys from the OPEC
countries. The economic crisis in the
capitalist countries had a negative
effect on Poland's export sales. These
were all factors that converged to
create the crisis in Poland.

The Need for Socialist Consciousness

These developments in turn brought
to the surface many other bothersome
questions which the leadership of the
Polish United Workers Party is now
looking into and discussing. This
includes the problem of an overreliance
on material incentives and a
tendency to leave advancement in the
ideological arena to spontaneity.
It is true that the socialist economic
system creates the material basis for
how people will think. But socialist
thinking does not then develop completely
automatically or spontaneously.
And of course ideological developments,
in this case socialist consciousness
always lags behind developments
in the economic arena.

In the period of building socialism
material incentives necessarily play
an important role. But they do not and
can not replace the need for constant
and consistant education, the struggle
in the ideological and political
areas of life. Appeals to national pride
are also not enough.

The experience of 60 years of
building real socialism is witness to
the fact that with the process of
building the economic structure of
socialism there must be some necessary
parallel processes taking place.

One of the most fundamental of these
processes is the need for a constant
struggle to draw ever greater numbers
of the people into the planning, management
and especially the governing
and decision-making processes.
This must be done by way of
constantly increasing the role and
responsibilities of people's organisations,
including and especially the
trade unions. People in ever greater
numbers must be drawn into the
process of finding solutions to the
problems in every area of life. They
must be drawn in not merely for
discussions, consultations and exchanges
of opinion. They must become
full partners, an integral component
in the actual decision-making
process. They must become part of the
power structure and governing apparatus.
It is a process of expanding the
mass base of socialist democracy.
It seems there were some real
weaknesses in this area in Poland. When
there is an overemphasis on material
incentives and weaknesses in the
ideological struggle it will result in a
lag in development of socialist consciousness.
The people must fully and deeply
understand the difficulties and problems,
and how and why they arise.
They must know what the limits are
in each stage of development. Only
then will they be prepared and motivated
to wholeheartedly fight for
solutions and their implementation.

The development of socialist personality,
based on socialist consciousness,
takes place only as a result of
continuing stubborn and relentless
struggle. At no stage of socialism does
such a personality emerge without an
ideological struggle. Naturally, the
socialist way of life, socialist consciousness,
does not take shape overnight.
Establishing a new way of life,
new ways of thinking, involves a
complex and lengthy struggle against
old habits and traditions and the
mentality inherited from the past.
The new society — the new socioeconomic
system based on public
ownership and the social relations
arising on this base (which eliminates
the antagonism based on the irreconcilable
interest of opposing, hostile
classes) — lays the objective basis for
socialist consciousness. It stimulates
the birth of new ideas, new social

Socialism lays the basis for new
attitudes to labour and new moral
ideas and goals. But these do not
grow and develop without constant
struggle, without cultivation on many

The fact that some 70% of the farms
in Poland are still privately operated
is not only a drag on agricultural
production. It is also a drag on the
development of socialist personality.
It seems obvious that material
incentives, without a political and
ideological struggle, will continue the
very slow transition to collective and
state farms, which is the only basis
for modernisation of a large-scale
socialist agriculture.

Weaknesses in the ideological
sphere create a vacuum which other
ideologies rush to fill. This creates
fertile soil for anti-socialist elements.
In Poland, the Catholic Church
remains not only a religious, but also
an ideological force. Its ideological
influence will not diminish without a
conscious struggle. The statement
that the Party in Poland must
reestablish a relationship of confidence
in the PUWP is a most serious
self-criticism. And of course there is
the important question of why the
people lost confidence in the first
place. It will help, but a change in the
leading personalities in and of itself
will not result in reestablishing that

A socialist society has a distinct
advantage in that it has the means
and the structure to correct mistakes
and recover from weaknesses. This is
because the relationships among the
workers, the Party, the trade unions
and the government are not based on
inherent contradictions between a
worker and a boss and because their
mutual self-interests are served by the
continued building of socialist society.

What Next?

So the capitalist ideologues are whistling
in the corporate graveyard if they
think the workers and people of
Poland are going to veer from the
socialist path. Poland will make
changes and correct many mistakes.
But the one mistake it will never make
is to reverse its socialist path of

There is no question that the strikes
in Poland were negative developments.
But they are being transformed
into their opposite because the
Party, the trade union leaders and the
government are drawing the necessary

Socialism will be the winner!

from The Leninist Communist Theoretical Journal Winter 1981/82, Number One

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