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New Left Review I/130, November-December 1981


Domenico Mario Nuti

Poland: Economic Collapse and Socialist Renewal

Since August 1980 the Polish economy has turned from modest decline to catastrophic collapse, characterized by drastic falls in income and standards of living, endemic shortages, inflation, external imbalance and effective default on foreign debt, underutilization of capital and labour, and the disintegration of central control. Against this background Solidarity has grown vertiginously—its current membership of ten million includes one million rank-and-file Communists (one-third of the Party’s total). Another two-and-a-half million peasants have joined the collateral ‘Rural Solidarity’. Now officially recognized and registered by the regime, the new union has insistently escalated its demands through legal proceedings and negotiations, backed by work-to-rule, strikes, hunger strikes, demonstrations, marches and a barrage of new publications. A major effect of Solidarity’s emergence and growth has been the adoption of a policy of socialist ‘renewal’ (odnowa) by the Polish United Workers Party (pzpr). This movement towards extensive democratization of Party life has been the direct result of competition with Solidarity to meet the population’s demands for greater democracy and participation. The escalation of social conflict and confrontation between the two parties has brought Poland beyond the range of known national divergences from the Soviet-type model, and well past what until now was understood to be the threshold of Soviet tolerance. The recent Congresses of the pzpr (14–19 June 1981) and Solidarity (September 1981, in two stages) have clarified their respective positions, polarized them on crucial issues to the point of a dangerous and unstable stalemate, yet left open a possible—though difficult—route towards compromise and recovery. Otherwise, the dismal alternatives of either domestic repression or external intervention become increasingly likely.

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