GB No. 5-6, summer-fall 1991


Since ecological hazards were first recognized as an issue in the more developed and industrialized countries of the West, approaches toward them have been formed by Western realities: liberal-democratic political systems, and market economies based on the profit motive, in which ever increasing demands for goods stimulate growth. In this model, the society of abundance, the consumer society would achieve universal welfare and harmony. Among the criticisms of consumer society there are objections to the overuse of natural resources not justified by legitimate needs, and to the burden on the natural environment from production waste and garbage. Waste and garbage obviously deepen the ecological crisis. Some see the unabated race to acquire and amass goods as a cause of an environmental crisis which threatens humanity.

Such stereotyped way of thinking is justified only in part because the waste of natural resources and the destruction of the environment was much greater under totalitarian rule, in an economy not motivated profit maximization but by the needs of a militaryindustrial complex supporting an expansionist foreign policy. There were many restrictions on consumption, with propaganda campaigns against consumer demands in the name of a bright future. Under the Nazis it was for the 1000-year Reich; under Stalinist rule, for a communist utopia of universal happiness and social justice. The Nazis restricted consumption, but communist totalitarism extended these restriction to an unprecedented degree... Since Stalin created the communist economic model that supported the military might of the communist system, the system and the model may justifiably be called Stalinist.

The hallmark of this model, imprinted by its creator as early as in the 1920s, was the priority given to development of armament related branches of economy at the expense of all the branches serving ordinary human needs. This resulted in the excessive growth of raw materials extraction, energy and heavy industries; There was a decline, even a breakdown, of light industry, food processing, housing, agriculture and services. All this could not result in any kind of authentic progress for the economy and civilization, but only a unilateral growth of industries to bolster military might capable of threatening the world. The communist empire became a "unidimensional superpower."

This Soviet-designed model was imposed on all the countries which came under Soviet domination after World War II. The results of this are now clear to all the world; against the background of economic crisis, elementary human needs are not met and a vast ecological crisis unfolds. Instead of the "abundant societies" of the West we have "societies of shortage" (M. Marody). The ecological crisis was bound to happen since Stalinist industrialization selected the most resource-consuming and environmentthreatening, "dirty" industries such as mining, energy industry and metallurgy. Ecological disasters occurred the vast reaches of the Soviet Union. Only recently has their extent been gradually revealed to the world public opinion. Even more damaging was this industrialization program in smaller countries of Eastern Europe, where Soviet model was imposed without taking into account the effects of scale. That is why in the 1980s the highest concentration of man-made air pollutants was observed in the border area between Poland Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

The Stalinist model imposed on Poland wrought damage to the environment from wasteful use of natural resources (mainly coal), and also from the unbalanced development of some branches of industry: energy based on both bituminous and lignite coals, high volume, basic chemical industry; and iron, steel and non-ferrous metallurgy (lead, aluminium and copper).

It is difficult to assess. But it is not hard to point to the most drastic assaults on the natural and cultural environments under communists who applied their profoundly irrational concepts to the siting and building of iron and steel plants.

The locations of these plants were decided with no regard for elementary economic considerations Political issues, propaganda exercises and the projections of prestige mattered. The largest complex of iron and steel facilities (called the Lenin Steelwork until 1990, when the name was changed to the Sendzimir steelworks) was located close to Cracow, which has the highest concentration of historic monuments and artifacts important to Polish culture. The steelworks was built on loess soils, the best in this country, where very productive fruit and vegetable farming was already established. The works were first designed to produce 1.5 million metric tons of steel per year, but further development brought it as high as 6.7 million tons per year.

From the very beginning, the design was doomed to failure economically, for the ore supply was to be brought from remote basins in the Soviet Union. it has to be transferred from wide gauge railway rolling stock to the narrow gauge Polish rail. It was done at the Medyka border crossing with more energy consumed at facilities for thawing the frozen ore there. In the economically aware world, such huge iron and steel works normally were located close to either the coal or the ore deposits, or near ports ensuring cheap supply by sea or inland water transport (as in Japan, France, Germany and Italy). The steelworks threatened Cracow as no enemy had in its thousand year history, helping to turn it into one of the world's most unhealthy places to live, in terms of environmental pollution.

A second huge steelworks was started in the 1970s on the fringes of the Upper Silesia industrial region, which had already been saturated with environment damaging industry. extremely hazardous to the environment. The Katowice Steelworks had a planned target output of 10 million metric tons per year. It was designed when a decline in the steel industry was already clearly apparent, with traditional steel centers like Pittsburgh in the USA and Lorraine in France going out of business. At least this steelworks was sited on coal deposits, but ore was still to be brought in by rail transport (for which a special widegauge railway line was built from the Soviet border). There were additional costs involved water supplies, which were not available at the site. The downfall of Edward Gierek who was a driving force behind the project limited the ambitions of the planners and the output of the works. Even so, it proved environmentally hazardous and contributed much to the very dangerous living conditions in the region.

Both these huge plants produce low-grade steel. They are a burden not only on the environment but also on the country's economy. They consume a lot of energy without returning socially useful products or any real profit. The only economically feasible solution - to shut them down - is blocked by the fact that an enormous work force is being employed there without alternative jobs available. This is a greatest obstacle in overcoming the crisis in Poland.

There should be a halt to production that wastes resources and is not justified by economic considerations or social needs especially in the iron and steel industry, but also in the the other branches fostered by the communist governments. Economists, politicians and planners, declare the dire need to restructure the economy, particularly industry. The direction proposed is towards industry that consumes less resources and fulfils social needs as well. There is considerable opposition employees threatened with job loss or indeed with job change or the necessity to retrain. Industries favored by the communists have a history of giving their employees slightly better living conditions and wages. This favoritism should be viewed against the background of the generally poor living standards and the shortages so characteristic for "real socialism". Resentment comes from both the factory workers and by technobureaucrats, the management and engineers. The techno-bureaucrats profited from working for these industries or from carrying out studies as experts and consultants, so now they fiercely defend those industries.

Within the Cracow area, so dramatically affected by the Stalinist model of industrialization, there is a conflict between the majority of city inhabitants who want the steelworks to be shut down, and the employees of the steelworks. The techno-bureaucrats are allies of the latter. Some of them have managed even to penetrate nongovernmental environmental organizations, and having donned an "ecological costume" they are trying to defend steel production in Cracow! Such cases should be exposed and revealed to the public. The task of salvaging Cracow, and indeed the rest of the country, requires a great mobilization of public opinion to support decisive changes in the economy. There should be no yielding to the demands of pressure groups which feel threatened by changes. The interest of the society should take precedence.

Andrzej Delorme

translated by Roman Tertil and
Michael Jacobs of
Letterman Translators and Interpreters

GB No. 5-6, summer-fall 1991 | Contents