GB No. 5-6, summer-fall 1991


The eighties in the West were a period of the domination of political rights symbolized by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. And when the communist regimes had fallen down, trends dominating in the Occident came also to the Eastern Europe. The same happened in Poland - the time of reigning of the communist ideology is over, but it was immediately replaced by a free market ideology of competition and material success. The Polish society - till not long ago, anyway - was absorbing this "new faith" with a childly confidence and nagve belief, that mythical capitalism would solve every problem. The ruling elites were more realistic in their opinion, but the affirmation of capitalism was quite convenient for them, as it strengthened their economical and political mastery.

The highly developed capitalistic countries - which at present are the ideal for the majority of Poles - are undoubtedly the societies of welfare (which they owe in great part to the exploitation of underdeveloped countries), but it's difficult to say that they are free societies. The graciously reigning free-market ideology notions of freedom and individualism are obstinately linked with two other conceptions - which are competition and "success". But in fact it's an attempt to couple contradictions, because competition is possible only in an uniformized society (as any common criterion of "being better" is necessary - for example the amount of money) and in a society, which is hierarchical (as a possibility of promotion is necessary). And a contemporary capitalist society is just like these.

"Free enterprise", which is now so enthusiastically praised, at present belongs practically to the past. One hundred years ago a capitalist factory owner was free in this meaning, that he could freely exercise control over his factory, although of course his "freedom" meant the enslavement of workers. But modern capitalism isn't the capitalism of individual enterpreneurs any more. It's a system of giantic, bureaucratized corporations closely linked with the state apparatus.

Lets get a look at a social structure of a corporate state at the beginning of the '90. There's a ruling elite on the top. And there is a new middle class one cut below - yuppies, specialists-technocrats, the hired servants of the Megamachine. The Yuppies as a middle class traditionally perform in the system pattern-giving functions - lower class following their lifestyle and it turns a whip of capitalism economy while striving of buying the same consumption goods. But together with the production there also grows the middle class's standard of living, so a certain distance will never disappear and a growing amount of senseless goods likewise the devastation of natural environment will be the only effects. On the other hand for the persons reluctant to take part in a rat race rightist elites of the '80 a kind of social hell was created - an artificially generated space of poverty, which is the place for persons who reject the rules of a competitive society. For example in England under Thatcher's government in this way the number of unemployed doubled and it probably wasn't a result of an instant growth of Englishmen's fancy for a loose way of life.

The highly developed capitalist society seems to be stable. People, who on one hand are threatened by poverty and on the other are seduced with a vision of wealth, theoretically should be obedient and deprived of any will of self-determination. Fortunately sometimes they still make trouble. Workers defend themselves against being pushed to the space of poverty, students protest against changing their universities into factories which produce technical staff for capitalist corporations. In such situations police appears on the stage - it happened in England in 1984 or in France in 1987.

The culture of modern capitalism seemingly is a pluralistic culture of packages. Apparently it offers the people a multitude of lifestyles and systems of moral valuation. But in fact all of them are only a fashion generated by the system. Their multitude and variability serves the changing of their receivers into "elastic conformists" and - by this way - the accommodation of these people for a highly developed techno-economic system, which is also characterized by a multitude and variability of roles. At the same time these ideas, lifestyles and values which function in modern capitalist culture are deprived of much meaning. They don't serve uniting the people with their existence, but they are only trinkets and another determining social status article of consumption - just like cars or cottages. It's like that because then capitalist society - like all authoritarian societies - reifies everything: persons, nature, ideas, feelings.

I criticize a consumerist society, but of course I see that it's easier to build enclaves of independence in conditions of welfare. It's testified for example by the fact that the counter-cultures and alternative movements have developed in the rich - not in the poor - countries. But unhappily wealth doesn't threaten Poland, because it will be one of many countries of subjugated capitalism submited to economic exploitation by the Western corporations. We shall have western culture of packages and social a structure similar to the Western one, but we shan't have the wealth. In Poland, contrary to the West, wealth - not poverty - will be an exception. Nowadays propaganda maintains, that "everybody can win". This winter, in the center of Warsaw I saw crowds of young men standing with self-abnegation at their street stalls during a 15 degrees Centigrade frost - maybe in the future they will become a symbol of the present generation of youth and its nagve belief in the propaganda lies. Also the removal of young pedlars from the center of the city made by police - I've heard that it happened because the city authorities were bribed by rich firms - assume the proportions of a symbol. It's this way because only the elites, not common people, will profit from the restoration of capitalism. The other group, which will profit from the returning of capitalism, will be the Polish yuppies: a group, which will come into being as a result of the transformation of the present inteligentzie; the personnel of the system specialized in manipulating people and nature. On the other hand the majority of workers and this part of inteligentzia, which won't transform, will be fated to live in poverty.

It's dubious, that such a situation will awake in those people any kind of revolutionism in the near future - destitution will rather generate fascist tendencies. The poor will support "strong men" promising, that they will "make order" (this situation we've already seen during Wałęsa's president campaign), but each of their following choices will bring them disappointment, because those, whom they'll give power, of course won't be interested in the liquidation of the privileges of the ruling elite.

Of course after some time the illusions will disappear. The workers will comprehend, that supporting of the leaders instead of selforganizations, leads to nowhere. Students will find out that welfare, that the system will anyway offer to some of them, is connected with the necessity to forgo freedom and take part in a humiliating rat race. This disillusionment will undoubtably cause protest, but their forms, extent and consequences are difficult to foresee.

Piotr Rymarczyk
"Rewolta" No 6

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