Polish Party Faces New Accountability : NEWS ANALYSIS
The Polish Communist Party has gone through a long, hard year, and is just rousing itself to a new and troubling idea: that the demands of a changing political world require, for the first time, a genuine submission to public accountability.
In choosing Mieczyslaw F. Rakowski as their new leader Saturday, Polish Communists have turned to a combative and maverick politician whose principal job will be to promote at least the illusion that the Communists who have run the country for four decades have enough public support to continue running it.
It is an uphill battle, if not altogether impossible, and Rakowski’s best efforts may amount to little more than damage limitation after the party’s embarrassing performance in the June elections, which brought Solidarity, the trade union movement, charging to the political forefront. Meanwhile, Communists had a hard time getting their candidates elected even when they ran unopposed.
Indeed, the elections, and the yearlong turmoil inside the party have brought out suggestions that the party is in its last days and should reconstitute itself as a left-leaning “social democratic” party in the West European style.
Rakowski, however, is having none of that--at least for the moment. One of the wiliest political players in the country, he campaigned shrewdly for the top party post, drawing on his longtime loyalty to President Wojciech Jaruzelski, who resigned the party leadership along with his other party positions to devote full time to the presidency.
Jaruzelski’s endorsement was central, along with an appeal to party conservatives, who welcomed Rakowski’s message that the party can survive without surrendering its Marxist principles.
Conservative Turn for Party
Rakowski’s often antagonistic stance toward the opposition Solidarity and his appeal to hard-liners initially suggests a conservative turn in the party. Among his first appointments were two old-line party operatives, Manfred Gorywoda and Janusz Kubasiewicz, to the Politburo.
But perhaps more significant were his first four appointments to posts in the Central Committee Secretariat, the party’s executive arm, which has control over its day-to-day operation. Three of the new appointees, Marek Krol, Slawomir Wiatr and Marcin Swiecicki, are under 35 years old and such new faces that they were not even members of the Central Committee. The fourth, Wladzimierz Natorf, is Poland’s 42-year-old ambassador to Moscow.
These appointments point to a recognition by Rakowski of the new importance of public accountability in the party’s reckoning with the future.
As the party discovered, to its shock, in the elections, there seem to be few Establishment Communist figures who can talk directly to the public without relying on the gobbledygook jargon of traditional Communist discourse.
Indeed, in the past, there was no real need for any plain talk, since elections were largely rigged affairs and competition a kind of listless charade.
Specter of Free Elections
Now, however, the party’s long-running inability to manage the economy has forced it into accepting a political accommodation with the opposition Solidarity and--for the party--the even more haunting specter of fully free elections in four years. Without a major turnaround in its rock-bottom public support, free elections would effectively spell the end of the Communist Party as a political force in Poland.
The party is also forced, for the first time, to recognize both the power of the government and the National Assembly. In the past--and yet today in most Communist countries--the line between government structures and the party was thin or non-existent. Now, as the reawakening civil society asserts itself, the Communists are being forced to accept new limits to their power and influence.
The Central Committee itself recognized the new reality in a resolution it adopted Saturday before electing Rakowski as the new party chief.
“The party sees no return,” the resolution said, “to the period when the views of the rank and file were disregarded, no return to the period when the views of the parliamentary deputies were disregarded, no return to the period when the views of the public were disregarded.”
The resolution amounted to both a remarkable confession as well as a pledge to do better. But, by itself, it is not likely to go far in winning the hearts and minds of Polish citizens, who have been listening to Communist “critical assessments” and reform pledges for years.
Rooting Out the Bureaucracy
Rakowski’s real battle to survive the public’s demand for accountability will be to root out the entrenched bureaucracy well down the chain of party command--in districts, cities and towns and throughout the country’s industry. For, despite policy pronouncements at the top of the hierarchy, the party nomenklatura represents the most serious obstruction to reform, particularly in the economy.
Jaruzelski, in his new role as president, is expected today to submit his candidate for premier to the Sejm, the lower house of the National Assembly. And party sources, after Rakowski’s election, were putting forward a new name as a likely candidate: Roman Malinowski, head of the United Peasants’ Party, one of the parties allied with the Communists in the National Assembly.
The suggestion of Malinowski bears the hallmark of a Rakowski ploy. First, it would read well in the West, since it would mark the first time in 40 years that a non-Communist has headed the government. Second, it would saddle Malinowski with the responsibility for the serious price increases that are due to be enacted soon, as well as for more economic hardships over the coming months.
For Solidarity, the Rakowski appointment represents a challenge, for Rakowski has been pushing the opposition hard and has resisted the impulse, displayed by some party leaders, to play to the Solidarity audience. He has been advocating a free market for food (a radical reform step), while Solidarity, true to its trade union heritage, has advocated a slow transition to a free food market.
Rakowski got his way Sunday when the government announced it was lifting price controls on most foods, starting Tuesday. Rakowski had argued that much of Poland’s problem of food shortages is caused by farmers who are withholding meat and other products from the market because prices are insufficient. Solidarity, anticipating the move, said Saturday that price increases would bring “a danger of an outbreak of social dissatisfaction.”
Direct Purchases From Farmers
The official news agency PAP said that under the new pricing system, stores will be permitted to buy meat directly from farmers at a mutually-agreed price. Meat has been rationed since 1981 with each family member allowed to buy five pounds of meat from state stores at controlled prices. Poles could also buy meat at uncontrolled prices from private shops.
PAP said that price controls will remain on bread, low-fat milk, cottage cheese and milk formula for infants.
Rakowski’s advocacy for a free market on prices signaled the likelihood that he will continue to be the most combative opponent Solidarity has to deal with in the coming months.