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From Solidarity to Sellout

From Solidarity to Sellout

Translated by Eliza Lewandowska
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    From Solidarity to Sellout
    Book Description:

    In the 1980s and 90s, renowned Polish economist Tadeusz Kowalik played a leading role in the Solidarity movement, struggling alongside workers for an alternative to "really-existing socialism" that was cooperative and controlled by the workers themselves. In the ensuing two decades, "really-existing" socialism has collapsed, capitalism has been restored, and Poland is now among the most unequal countries in the world. Kowalik asks, how could this happen in a country that once had the largest and most militant labor movement in Europe? This book takes readers inside the debates within Solidarity, academic and intellectual circles, and the Communist Party over the future of Poland and competing visions of society. Kowalik argues that the failures of the Communist Party, combined with the power of the Catholic Church and interference from the United States, subverted efforts to build a cooperative and democratic economic order in the 1990s. Instead, Poland was subjected to a harsh return to the market, resulting in the wildly unequal distribution of the nation's productive property - often in the hands of former political rulers, who, along with foreign owners, constitute the new capitalist class. Kowalik aptly terms the transformation from command to market economy an epigone bourgeois revolution, and asks if a new social transformation is still possible in Poland.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-298-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 9-18)

    This book is designed as a critical analysis of the results of the Polish transformation—from a command to a capitalist economy—in the years before entry into the European Union (EU). My criticism is based on two interrelated premises: the new socioeconomic order is evaluated here not so much in terms of its economic growth rate and international competitiveness, as in its ability to employ labor and to satisfy the material and cultural needs of the main social groups. This is a radical criticism, one that should help formulate a program aimed at repairing the damages done by the...


    • 1 The Collapse of “Really Existing Socialism”
      (pp. 21-32)

      Alec Nove, the noted expert on the Russian and Soviet economies, once said, “The word ‘socialism’ is apt to produce strong feelings, of cynicism and hostility. It is the road to a future just society, or to serfdom. It is the next stage of an ineluctable historical process, or tragic aberration, a cul-de-sac, into which the deluded masses are drawn by power-hungry agitator-intellectuals.”¹

      *At that time prime minister of the newly formed cabinet, the last “communist” cabinet. It may come as a surprise to today’s reader that barely half a centure ago, for many scholars and politicians, the superiority of...

    • 2 The Neoliberal About-Face
      (pp. 33-54)

      The showy entry on the path of reversal to capitalism (at that time called market economy or the free market) contradicted the partly socialist, or syndicalist, program of the “Self-Governing Republic,” ratified in October 1981 by the First Congress of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity” (hereafter referred to as S.). Likewise, it contradicted the Round Table Agreements concluded in April 1989 and the declaration that followed several months later and that became an election platform for the Consultative Committee with Lech Wałęsa. The pivotal turn took place practically without struggle and without public disputes. How, then, did it happen...

    • 3 A Brief Compromise: The Round Table
      (pp. 55-78)

      The historical significance of the Round Table Agreements in initiating the path toward peaceful transfer of power cannot be overstated. Such a turn of events had never been thought possible by analysts and observers either in Poland or abroad. Yet here a model of peaceful systemic changes was created that could be applicable also to other former communist countries or even to the whole world.

      This book, however, focuses on the socioeconomic aspects of Polish transformation. Within not even half a year, Poland performed “a leap to a market economy,” using as a model the theory of F. A. Hayek...

    • 4 From Gradualism to “Jump”
      (pp. 79-104)

      Apart from the abundant document archives mentioned in the Preface and my conversations with Stanisław Gomułka, we have at least three more testimonies by witnesses of the events described in this book.

      The earliest is the book by Waldemar Kuczyński (1992), exceptional in its openness and sincerity. Then there is the reticent, milder account of the markedly self-controlled Leszek Balcerowicz,800 dni.Szok kontrolowany(800 Days of Controlled Shock) (1992), and two books by Jeffrey Sachs (1993, 2006). Economic issues are also dealt with in a book by the head of the Citizens’ Parliamentary Committee, Bronisław Geremek (1990), which displays...

    • 5 Great Systemic Choices
      (pp. 105-134)

      When analyzing the great leap from real socialism to capitalism, we cannot overlook the historical context of this event. This was not only a period of ordinary technocratic transformation of one system of economy into another (described as the natural succession of the free market after the disintegration of the command-distributive system), but something much more important. There were also intense changes in the social structure, of which the most important was the radical shift of part of the wealth from the poor to the rich, shoving aside certain social groups and elevating others. There was shock, disappointment, and paralysis...

    • 6 The Balcerowicz Plan in Practice
      (pp. 135-148)

      “When in the first half of February Franciszek Kubiczek, at that time head of GUS (Central Statistical Office), announced that in January industrial output had dropped by more than 30 percent, this came as an unbelievable shock and some even said that this man from thenomenklaturamust be putting us on. He wasn’t.”¹ Kuczyński attributed this to “a certain numbness to the negative effect of the program.”² Yet he should have noticed—at least after obtaining the data concerning price rises—that this drop was in proportion to the planned scale of reducing the purchasing power of wage earners....

    • 7 The Alternative after the Shock
      (pp. 149-170)

      Defenders of the Balcerowicz Plan cite two kinds of arguments. The first denies the existence of alternative programs; the other admits they exist but denies them realism. Let us begin with the first kind. Here is the version of the Polish TINA*: “Successive right-wing and left-wing governments have continued this policy [of the Democratic Union/Union of Liberty, DU/UL] not because secret informers from the old intelligence service were within their ranks, but because there was no other realistic policy of change.”¹ The authors believe that the program of the DU/UL group “was in a way a natural plan of transformation...


    • 8 Ownership: From Taboo Topic to the Round Table Agreements
      (pp. 173-192)

      Economists say that ownership forms make up one of the main pillars (next to the market) and, in certain arrangements, the main pillar of every economic system. The foremost feature of a capitalist economy is considered to be “private ownership of, and private enterprise with the means of production.”¹ On this score, there is no difference between the American neoclassical economist cited here and the Marxist Oskar Lange. And yet ownership issues as a subject of research still remain in the shadows of the market and are not a favorite economic topic. This is easier to understand in the case...

    • 9 Open and Hidden Privatization Strategies
      (pp. 193-202)

      In economic literature, the following privatization objectives are enumerated (not in order of importance):

      1. Improvement of efficiency of enterprises and/or the entire economy

      2. Expansion of the range of competition through the constraint of monopolies.

      3. Limitation of intervention of the government and administration in the activity of enterprises (their depolitization).

      4. Concentration of private capital as a source of accumulation and growth.

      5. Reduction of government subsidies to state firms, that is, elimination or reduction of soft budget constraints.

      6. Increase of state budget income to finance other reforms; for example, of the pension system.

      7. Creation of a favorable framework for foreign investment.

      8. Facilitation of EU...

    • 10 Ownership Transformations in Practice
      (pp. 203-232)

      In the second half of the 1980s, there was an eruption of uncontrolled privatization of the economy from below. Just before the collapse of the previous system, the legal framework was furnished for this process. The main path of privatization of the national economy was at first expansion of the old private sector (growth of existing firms), but even more of a new private sector, emerging and operating outside the state sector. According to economists,¹ the pace of growth of this sector was determined by five factors:

      1. Legal ease in the establishment of private firms;

      2. Existence of many...

    • 11 More on Enfranchisement and Foreign Capital
      (pp. 233-250)

      From the time of the first pledges made by Lech Waɫęsa, mainly involving giveaways of state property, the concept of enfranchisement resurfaced in public debate many times. Let me recall the main theses of Waɫęsa’s program. In the beginning, in the course of the presidential campaign, this was to be an ordinary giveaway. Then in 1991, the program took on the shape of a highly preferential loan equivalent of $ 10,000, granted in the form of coupons and repaid over twenty years. The loan was to be interest-free for the first ten years, then bear a 10 percent interest rate....


    • 12 Ownership in Different Types of Capitalism
      (pp. 253-274)

      As discussed in Part Two, the main architect of the Polish systemic changes, Leszek Balcerowicz, treated property as one of the basic pillars of economic systems. Let us take a closer look at his views, this time to consider not only his perspective on capitalism as such but also its variety.* He expressed his reflections in the 1989 monographSystemy gospodarcze(Economic Systems) and in a separate study on property in 1997.

      Although the final version of the 1997 study came into being many years after the collapse of the socialist system, it did not cease to be weighed down the...

    • 13 The New Order—A Civilization of Inequality?
      (pp. 275-308)

      What kind of civilization do Poles need? This is the question posed in Jerzy Jedlicki’s book (1988) and is also its title. The question is about the characteristics of the new social order that has emerged after twenty years of transformation, as compared with the desirable order.

      The author of a book about the social costs of the transformation,Trauma wielkiej zmiany(Trauma of a Great Change),¹ among these traumatic events, places unemployment in first place. This was “a situation unknown in the era of communism, when everyone had guaranteed employment, even if low-paid and not very satisfying. . ....

    • 14 Start a Debate on Poland and the European Union
      (pp. 309-322)

      We are clearly in the midst of a global crisis and this forces the authorities, political parties, and non-governmental organizations (trade unions) to reflect on the situation in the world, in the European Union, and in Poland. What they do and how they behave will depend on how they assess the situation, not only as it is now, but also the processes and events of the past. Those who had been planning festivities to celebrate twenty years of Poland’s transformation have now been forced to at least change their tune. The crisis is what throws a new light on the...

  8. Chronology
    (pp. 323-326)