GB No. 2(21)/96


The first political parties that included environmental protection in their programs came into being in the 70's. A majority the parties, often named "Green", have to-the-left orientation. The natural aim of leftists' criticism is capitalist systems inability to handle "social injustice". The Greens also perceive capitalism as evil, because they recognise it as the main source of human negligence towards the environment. Capitalism stimulates consumption needs which are one of the main causes of environmental degradation. Overconsumption is partly a direct result of the free market in which every producer wants to sell his goods and a customer, often manipulated by means of environmentally harmful advertising, and who then buys the goods regardless whether he needs them or not. The system causes exhaustion of raw materials and energy, which in itself is burdensome for the environment. Andrzej Delorme does not deny the facts, but he stresses that the biggest environmental destroyers have been countries of the lowest level of consumption, i.e. communist countries (interchangeably called the eastern Block, of people's democracy, communist ruled, etc.).

The reason for immense environmental destruction was overindustrialisation leading to pollution of air, water, soil and, consequently, live organisms, and landscape. The author strongly states how important the industrial development was in those countries. Actually, it did not serve human needs. Its main function was creation of military power and, in the case of the so-called satellite countries, not their own but of the Soviet Union. Therefore the strongest developed branch was the heavy industry whose product was not directly consumed; being at the same time extremely environmentally dangerous. Often the industrial growth took an absurd character: one branch was developed in order to support another and the reason for the latter to be expanded was the necessity of sustaining the former. For instance, steel was needed for coal mining (machines, mine infrastructure); to produce steel coal was necessary as the fuel for steelworks. Mentioning that no economical calculation was ever taken to account would be just a truism. The author indicates the totalitarian system to be the source of that absurd. In the pursuit of power no social or environmental costs were too high.

Delorme opposes the opinion, held not only by ex-communist elites, that the industrialisation of the country should be included as one of the great accomplishments of the People's Republic of Poland.

The history of pro-environmental undertakings in Poland, as presented by the author, shows that the movement was activated during the periods of the political "thaw". In this respect, the year 1980 was a special time: it was then that the Polish Ecological Club was established - the first really non-governmental organisation dealing seriously with the environmental protection. Also the Solidarity activists were interested in ecological issues; they demanded the most polluting industrial plants to be closed down. In that time the document Alternatywna koncepcja rozwoju kombinatu Huty im. Lenina (The Alternative Conception of the Lenin Steelworks Development) was prepared by the team of the Solidarity experts, Polish Ecological Club and a part of the Ministry for Environmental Protection staff. In this paper they suggested that the works should cease the production of raw materials in favour of finished goods (the author included the document in the appendix to his book). The martial law did not stop the growth of interest in environmental matters, though strong pressure on the part of industrial lobbies could be felt enabling continuation or even starting up new investments (e.g. atomic power plant in Żarnowiec).

Delorme devotes many pages of his book to discussing the state of the environment after the fall of the Communist regime. He points to the fact that, despite the end of the system responsible for overdevelopment of heavy industry, the lobbies opposing its restructure survived. In these groups of interest Delorme includes not only former ruling elite but also those of anti-Communist programs, such as the Solidarity who has been apparently afraid that the result of the process would affect the level of employment. The author grieves over the change of Solidarity's attitude today as compared to the one from 1980. In my opinion the shift is quite natural. In 1980 Solidarity was one of few legal organisations that was able to utter society's opinions other than the "official" ones. It also had to deal with all other aspects of life. It functioned as a trade union since only as such it could remain legal (and not for long, as it appeared later). In democratic Poland Solidarity has to return to its basic role - of a trade union that has to place employee's interest before ecological and even economical matters. Delorme's criticism refers also to a number of political parties, most of whom perceive the environmental issues from a merely strategical perspective. This charge is addressed to the Church too; however the author recognises its contribution in awakening the respect for nature (e.g. Franciscan movement). Delorme disapproves two statements (by the Pope and Cardinal Macharski) appreciative of "the toil of steel plant workers". As for me, I would not attach so much importance to these two utterances.

Furthermore, as the author admits, the Church is not an organisation oriented towards environmental protection. Though it should play an important role in the life of a Christian, it cannot be a goal in itself. In my opinion, any reproaches for unsatisfactory concern for the environment charged against groups that primarily deal with other aspects of life are as inadequate as e.g. attacks on environmentalists not sufficiently opposing drug addiction (which is an utterly theoretical instance). Every organisation chooses its own aim and any other matters are viewed in the light of the very main task. By the way, at one point of his book Delorme is ready to grant the organizations that do not define themselves as "ecological" the right to form their own hierarchy of goals, e.g. ones aimed at raising the quality of life..
Communist monument in D±browa Górnicza, now dedicated to Jimmy Hendrix

Concerning organisations oriented towards environmental protection, the author will not accept any give and take. Therefore he severely criticises those environmental activists who place the economical and social motivation before the ecological ones. He devotes much space in his book to the conflict within the Polish Ecological Club that emerged from the controversy over restructuring the Sendzimir Steelworks (formerly Lenin). The detailed description of the situation can be found in the book. I would only like to mention that a part of PEC members (Delorme among them)suggested total cessation of raw material production there, while the board members of the club, in view of social welfare and the level of employment, issued a positive opinion about the purchase of appliances for continuous steel casting. It must be admitted that the method of the continuous steel casting is less dangerous for the environment than the traditional one, and the PEC Board found it necessary to decrease the production level. However Delorme believes that the proposed changes are insufficient and that an ecological organisation should not use an argument based on social circumstance, i.e. employment. In the author's opinion, the stand that the economical and social reasons cannot be rejected in the name of ecological ones because environmental protection is aimed at welfare of man, is unacceptable. Delorme states that there exists a danger of the ecological movement loosing its identity and that it is not true that the sense of environmental protection is protection of man: nature and even some human works (e.g. the endangered monuments in Kraków) should be treated as values in themselves.

However, I find this reasoning not convincing. The ecological movement has to win people (the authorities as well as local communities) over to its ideas. Therefore the argument that the economical and social motivation can be accepted, only in the short run though, is much more powerful. In the longer perspective it may appear that people who avoided being sacked have to quit their jobs because of health problems; only then should they realise that a better solution would be to find less-paying but safer places of work. Another good argument is to prove how ostensible the economical profits of the country are. However, having considered his whole his book, I must admit that Delorme also recognises the social aspect of the problem. He devotes much attention to the lack of concern for human needs typical for Communist systems. Besides the example of pigeon-hole-like condominiums he gives an instance of the Polish United Workers' Party's seat in Katowice whose location destroyed the whole communication system in the town.

An additional asset of the book is the large appendix including, apart from many documents, a poem (Two Economies by Marian Hemar) as well as many photographs presenting the detrimental impact of industry on the environment (among others, the eroded monuments in Kraków) and landscape.

Aleksandra Wagner The Department of Environmental Management
and Protection; University of Mining and Metallurgy
Al. Mickiewicza 30, paw. C-4, 30-059 Kraków
tel. 48/12/172254, fax 48/12331014

reprinted from Zielone Brygady, May '96
transl. by Małgorzata Maciejewska

Andrzej Delorme, Antyekologiczna spu¶cizna totalitaryzmu. Polityka-Gospodarka-¦rodowisko Naturalne. Wydawnictwo i Drukarnia "Secesja". Kraków 1995. 141 pages + 31 black and white photographs.


Generally, most people agree that any concerns about the natural environment should be free of ideological and political controversies. As practice indicates, however, at least at present, theses requirements cannot be met. The state of the environment is closely related to the political reality of the country. So far, though, publications that would analyse the impact of political situation on the environmental conditions from the holistic, historical perspective, have been extremely rare. Therefore, the book by Andrzej Delorme Antyekologiczna spuocizna totalirazmu (Anti-ecological Heritage of Totalitarianism) is very important for those interested in the subject. The title totalitarianism means, first of all, Stalinism and its milder form - the so-called state socialism that prevailed in Poland until 1989.

The devastating environmental effect of socio-economic development in general, and of the growth of manufacturing industries in particular, was first brought to public attention in the leading Western nations, i.e. Western Europe, the United States, Canada (as well as countries in the Pacific region such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan) at the end of the 1950's. In the following decade it was already possible to get a better picture of the nature and range of various environmental hazards. As a result, some of them were identified and brought under control, if only at the local or regional level (e.g. cleaning up of the Thames in London, cleaning operations in Pittsburgh in the USA). The campaign to alert people to the seriousness of the problem reached its high point in a special report prepared under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant Man and His Environment, published on 26 May 1969.

The fact that the threat to the environment was first taken note of in the West has resulted in conceptualizations of the problem which rely heavily on Western experience and the economic, social and political realities of capitalist societies. Their liberal-democratic political system, with its broad and effective guarantees of individual freedom, and their economic system based on free-market principles and the profit motive, created conditions for continuous growth of mass-scale individual consumption after the end of World War II. This process ushered in a period of unprecedented economic prosperity in the West. The trick of keeping up demand was done by ubiquitous, pushy advertising. Of course, many of its messages had hardly anything in common with man's real biological or socio-cultural needs. Stable demand fueled economic growth, market expansion and creation of jobs, but at the expense of the environment. On the one hand, natural resources were depleted at an increasing rate, on the other hand the rising tide of industrial and consumer wastes polluted land, sea, and air. A special term, the consumer society, was coined to refer to the beneficiaries of the new material prosperity. However, since the early 1960's they have come increasingly under fire from all kind of critics, including the ecologists. They warned that the model of expanding consumption must end in a global ecological catastrophe.

The Western prophets of an impending doom take it for granted that the ecological crisis is to be blamed solely on the uninhibited consumption habits of the capitalist affluent society. Frequent repetition has turned this opinion into a generally accepted cliché, although its universal validity is open to doubt. For one thing, the current ecological crisis is made rapidly worse by developments in the "poor South" rather than in the well-off North (e.g. the destruction of tropical forests). Another important cause of the frightening pace of ecological degradation was, until recently, the heavy-handed economic policy of the communist countries, the Soviet Union giving the lead.

The author of this book demonstrates that the blame for the destruction of the environment and a depletion of natural resources on a scale which has had no parallel in history must be put on the economy of the totalitarian state. It ignores the growth stimulants like individual consumer expectations or the profit motive. Its structure and functioning leaves practically no room for the operation of free market forces. In its early phases it was wedded to an ideology of sacrifices and ascetic consumer behavior. It meant, in practice, that people were compelled to stint themselves and put up with shortages of even the most basic goods. Nothing was more important to the economies of the Soviet bloc than the building of a military might indispensable for the continuation of an expansionist foreign policy. These ambitions led to a horrendous drain of natural resources and proved a greater burden to the environment than the unbridled consumption in the West. The voracity of the armaments industry and other strategically vital industries had no limits. Neither had waste: surplus military gear that did not go into service and was not affected by damage or wear, was made obsolete by the pace of technological progress. In the Soviet economy the military sector held a privileged position, while all other industries were permanently neglected. From the point of rational accounting, their very existence put the brake on the expansion of the military sector, and therefore their costs had to be minimized.

The same tendency made itself felt in the totalitarian system of the Third Reich, though due to the high level of German industrial development before Hitler's seizure of power, its effect on the general standard of life was less dramatic than elsewhere. But Nazi Germany had run its disastrous course prior to the ecological crisis and its case need not concern us here. The history of communist totalitarianism begins from the seizure of power in an underdeveloped country with a small industrial base and inadequate infrastructure. To proceed with its expansionist plans, or as it was called, the mission of liberating the working class the world over from capitalist exploitation, the system had to mobilize the whole society for the task of building an industrial base for the army. In the Soviet Union the gigantic task of enforced industrialization was undertaken by Stalin. When the first of a series of Five-Year Plans was set on foot in the late 1920's, he knew that the population would not put up with the enormous sacrifices. So, to account for the possible rumblings of discontent, he formulated the "law" of the intensification of class struggle along the path to communism. He then used this formula to justify brutal repression and the enforcement of even greater efforts and sacrifices which had to be made without any worthwhile consumer reward.

Stalin's industrialization project was tailored to the military requirements of the time. The priorities chosen in accordance with the strategic and technological thinking of the 1920's and 1930's included tanks and means of transport, artillery and automatic weapons, the air force and navy. The sheer scope of straight armaments production and the gigantic demand for back-up and supplementary deliveries claimed enormous amounts of steel, metals, fuel (chiefly petrol and coal) and all kinds of raw materials, as well as certain types of manufactured products. That is why mining and heavy industry, which were turning out producer goods, were given absolute priority in Stalin's economic policy. Consumer goods as well as the production of goods for final consumption (the so-called light industry, the housing sector, agriculture and services) were to occupy a permanently inferior position to producer commodities and heavy industry. This ranking remained an absolute dogma until the very end of the communist system; any attempt to modify it was always treated as an attack on the foundations of the system. The hypertrophy of mining and heavy industry, and the neglect of all those sectors of the economy that served individual human needs, remained a dominant feature of the Stalinist economic system. It goes without saying that the industries privileged under that system are the dirtiest and most harmful to both nature and man's environment (including the national heritage).

After World War II the economic model designed in the 1930's in the USSR was imposed on all the countries that had come under Soviet political control. Like other nations in this part of Europe, Poland had to join the communist block ruled from Moscow. This study is concerned primarily with the ecological and quality-of-life consequences of Poland's imprisoning in the strait-jacket in the Stalinist economy. Problems of other counties in a similar situation will be mentioned only occasionally.

The main argument of this study is that the subjection of the Polish economy to the Stalinist model resulted in wide-ranging ecological devastation, depletion of natural resources, deterioration of the overall quality of life and Poland's falling behind the standards of modern civilization. The oppressive character of the system provoked discontent which from time to time erupted in violent protests (in 1956, 1970, 1976 and 1980-81). In each case the government reacted by making temporary concessions, i.e. promising to improve the living conditions of the working population. But as soon as the emotions subsided, the communist priorities were brought back. The backsliding was determined by the fact that the privileged industries became, over the years, the power-base of enormously influential lobbies: since the members of those groups also belonged to the communist political class, it was not to be expected that the hallowed Stalinist priorities would ever be altered.

Eventually, however, the world communist system crumbled and collapsed. One of the reasons of the breakdown was no doubt its failure to stand up to the Western technological challenge: the Soviet military capability, materials engineering and information science simply could not keep pace with Western innovations. Although communism is no longer alive, its cumbersome legacy is still with us. The overblown, obsolete industries continue to provide employment to people, who, in spite of their aversion to the communist past, do not find much comfort in the future. They know their jobs are threatened. The moment when the restructuring measures will hit them hard is being put off, but it will come, eventually. This situation is very difficult to handle - economically, socially, politically. It has already generated so much social tension that the necessary transformations of the system cannot proceed at the desired pace.

reprinted from Andrzej Delorme:
"Antyekologiczna Spu¶cizna Totalitaryzmu"
Wydawnictwo i Drukarnia "Secesja", Kraków, 1995

GB No. 2(21)/96 | Contents