GB No. 8, summer 1992


Communism created an economic and political system that caused crisis on all sides. The communist economy was unable to meet the basic needs of society, since it was directed towards the power-aggrandizing branches of industry. Pro-military also industry caused environmental disaster, since it wasted natural resources on an unprecedented scale and caused extreme distress to the environment. The economic system characteristic of communism, worked out conceptually and implemented by Stalin in the Soviet Union, was later imposed on countries under Soviet domination. This model, justifiably called "stalinist", was marked by the priority given to the development of extraction and raw materials processing branches of industry, which were the basis for the armaments industry, and by the serious under development of those branches of the economy that served people's needs. There was only the level necessary to ensure simple reproduction of the labour force and cadre reserves for the army.

These effects of the communist system, pernicious to both the economy and the environment, resulted in ever-increasing shortages on the market, social indigence (the society of real socialism was described by M. Maroda as "the society of scarcity", and total crisis, which encompassed large areas of the Soviet Union (this is now becoming more and more obvious). This endangered the biological existence of the societies of real socialism, and manifested itself in such detrimental demographic tendencies as the decrease in life span, the increase in infant mortality and in cancer and circulatory diseases.

In all real socialist countries, environmental problems were among the issues most often taken up by the anti-regime opposition to communist authority, as they were socially a very sound argument against this authority. As early as the seventies, the underground opposition in Poland attempted warn society, revealing the facts about environmental devastation which were carefully suppressed by the authorities. During 16 months of society's emancipation in 1980-81, the first authentically civic, nation-wide ecological organization, the Polish Ecological Club (PEC) was created. Martial law and the communist backlash did not manage to stifle society's awareness of environmental problems, and the gradual liberalization was quicker in this field. Therefore, environmental problems were often raised by the opposition as a replacement issue, because it was impossible to bring to a head more important political problems such as freedom of speech and the press, and the right to form independent organizations (J. Hrynkiewicz, THE GREEN MOVEMENT, Warsaw 90, p. 173).

The economy formed through decades, with hypertrophy of the extraction and raw materials processing branches of industry, was already pointed out as a source of crisis in discussion papers of Solidarity, entitled "Focuses of trade union activities in the current situation" (SOLIDARITY weekly magazine no. 3, 81).

During the round-table negotiations, a special group was established to deal with environmental matters, which were also on the agenda in groups working on other issues. The AGREEMENTS signed there reflected only one controversy over the role of nuclear power in energy policy and the future of the Żarnowiec nuclear power station, under construction at that time. The nuclear option was rejected by the opposition, which demanded a halt to construction. Apart from a number of detailed agreements, the most important was a declaration of an eco-development policy which would require the restructuring of industry, in particular the breaking the domination of mining, energy production and heavy industry in economic policy, which had been the rule for many years (ROUND TABLE AGREEMENTS, Warsaw 89, pp. 13-15, 205, 252-253).

A few months later, an opposition-led government was formed by T. Mazowiecki, which in its ECONOMIC PROGRAM repeated and extended the declarations and promises of the AGREEMENTS. Abandonment of resource-consuming and environment- damaging production (eg. old coke-oven batteries, blast furnaces) was declared, as well as implementation of market mechanisms to help rejection of resource-depleting technologies, which would enable actions to be taken to stop environmental destruction (III, 2 and VII, 3). The government prepared a document entitled THE ECOLOGICAL POLICY OF THE STATE, which in the Sejm (lower chamber of parliament) resolution of 10 May 1991 was described as "defining in a proper way a number of rules, goals and directions for future actions". As in the previous documents, there was a declaration on curbing the complex of industries covering fuels, energy and metallurgy, which was to be a priority in environmental protection (item 20). Among the long-term priorities announced were restoration of the damaged environment, preventing further devastation and pro- ecological restructuring of the economy by means of coupling the desired effects with economic incentives (item 59).

The credibility of the Mazowiecki cabinet's declarations concerning environmental problems became open to question soon after the conflict over the construction of the Żarnowiec nuclear power plant broke out. Though the government decided to halt construction in September 1990, the decision was taken only after sharp protests from environmental activists, parliamentary debate, a public opinion poll in the Gdańsk district, and negative opinions on the power plant's safety from western experts. This entailed unnecessary costs, but above all the moral cost of the lost social credibility concerning the government's good intentions about solving environmental problems.

The disappointment was expressed in a bitter opinion which appeared in ELITA, the journal of young intellectuals, which stated that for the now-governing former opposition, environmental problems had become "a fifth wheel". The nuclear energy issue disappeared from the agenda, mainly due to the more acute economic problems, but it was hard to notice any substantial efforts by the new authorities to put their pro- ecological declarations and promises into effect. This was in spite of the fact that they are compatible with the economically necessary restructuring of the industry, which should eliminate branches and factories (especially the "dinosaurs" of socialist industrialization) created by communism to meet its imperial ambitions. This is where serious political and social problems come into play.

E. Mokrzycki (The Heritage of Real Socialism, RES PUBLICA 12/90; Social Limitations on Eastern European Economic Reforms, KRYTYKA 37) and other sociologists (W. Adamski, A. Rychard, J. Staniszkis) point out that it is the system of industrial branches and trade groups formed during decades of real socialism which was responsible for the difficulties. The communist state created the allocation system (called central planning), which in economic terms was the functional equivalent of the market system, and in the social sphere constituted the basic instrument for diversification the society. These groups strived to obtain the largest possible share of the goods distributed, lobbying the authorities; and the groups representing the branches of industry given priority under communism, such as mining, metallurgy and heavy industry, were the most influential.

Is spite of the collapse of communism, its heritage remained in the technical and material spheres (production tools and infrastructure), and also in the above-described social and institutional sphere in the form of lobbies, associated with branches of industry or big factories, and aiming to preserve of the status quo in production structure, working conditions and employment. This was revealed by conflicts in mining, metallurgy and heavy industry (Ursus, Starachowice) and in the armaments industry (especially in aircraft factories).

I will deal here with only one example of this kind of conflict, which illustrates the essence of the problems our country faces as it struggles out of economic, environmental and civilizational collapse. The source of this particular conflict was already identified in 1990 by a French political scientist, Guy Soreman, who worked on problems concerning The Way Out of Socialism (the title of the 1991 Polish edition of his book). He describes the Sendzimir Steel Mill (SSM) (formerly: Lenin SM) as focusing all the worst economic and environmental effects of communism, which the workers, represented by Solidarity, want to preserve by "modernizing" the steelworks with the help of foreign funds. He also relates his conversation with Władysław Kielian, a local trade union activist (today the chairmen of the Solidarity's commission for the steel industry), who works in the office formerly occupied by the First Secretary of the communist party organization, and who is replacing the old communist accessories with new ones, christian-nationalist. Soreman accuses the trade unions of having utopian illusions that, having overthrown communism, it is possible to retain its material and institutional heritage.

In 1981, PEC and Solidarity arranged a contest for a design on the best way to transform the ore-processing section of the steelworks into a steel-processing one, which would be much less harmful to the environment. Due to political changes, the idea was forgotten for many years, but it reemerged in Autumn 91 in the form of the Katowice Steel Mill's proposition to take over the whole ore-processing section. The proposition was strongly opposed by the SSM workers. Opposition culminated in a hunger strike by a group of Solidarity'80 trade union activists, including its leader, Andrzej Szewcuwaniec. The protest was justified by the prospect of reductions in employment in the steelworks and the threat of unemployment to most of its workers. This conflict was watched closely by the whole country and it led local and central authorities to conciliatory gestures and far- reaching concessions to the protesting workers.

On the other hand, the only opinion poll conducted on the attitude of Cracow's inhabitants towards the steelworks, done several years ago, showed that over 80% of those polled had decisively negative opinions about it, and as many as 40% thought that production should be completely blocked (B. Domański, "Industrial Threat to the Environment in the View of the Inhabitants of Cracow", in: ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER IN CRACOW, Cracow 90, p.111). But that is the "silent majority", well known in politics and political science, whose opinions usually cannot compete with the noisy minority who defend their interests by fair means or foul, and which the authorities, afraid of social unrest, must reckon with. A decidedly negative opinion about the economic goals of this protest was expressed by a well known journalist, Ernest Skalski ("To Sit Balcerowicz Out", Gazeta Wyborcza (G.W.) 18.1.92), and its anti-ecological character was pointed out by the Minister for Environmental Protection in Olszewski's government, Prof. S. Kozłowski, during his first meeting with environmental activists (Eco-nerves, G.W. 25-26.1.92). Threatened with unemployment, poverty or just with having to change professions, the workers of the SSM are not inclined to care about the environment in which they live themselves, even though they are endangered by the harmful influence of the steelworks more than city residents are, because they work and live in proximity to it.

Though the "heavy industry proletariat" created by communism (which, according to stalinist dogma, was to be a main support for communist rule) has overthrown communism, it cannot reconcile itself to the prospect of losing the social position it has had so far. Modernization of the economy inevitably leads to the elimination of this group, as has been observed for the last 10- 20 years in developed western countries. This process has not been free of conflicts there either, as the famous struggle between M. Thatcher's government and the miners over the closing of unprofitable coal mines proved. Liquidation of the steel industry in its traditional centres, such as Pittsburgh or Lorraine, was also accompanied by conflicts. In post-communist countries, the situation may be even worse, because, apart from the lack of funds for restructuring the economy, there is a hypertrophy of the branches of industry favoured by communism. Attempts by the industrial proletariat to defend these branches and its big factories is like squaring the circle: the point here is to preserve the production, economic and social structures created by communism, which inevitably generate shortages of goods and also social indigence, and, at the same time, to be rid of the socialist state of repression which was necessary to suppress the growing social unrest that accompanied the impoverishment of society.

The example of the SSM is particularly notable. The decision to locate it near Cracow was taken on an absurd ideological and dogmatic basis (to punish the city for its "reactionary character" and to change its social and political structure), ignoring basic economic arguments. The location was far from natural resources (coal and ore), on the best agricultural soils in the country (lessive soils, which are particularly unsuitable for building) with a model agricultural system of long-standing tradition (mainly vegetables and fruits for the city market). The harmful effect of the steelworks on local agriculture, nature, human health and the unique urban complex of Old Cracow, listed by UNESCO as a "0-class" world cultural monument, is well known. Opening the CSCE Symposium on the preservation of the European cultural heritage, held in 1991 in Cracow, Polish Prime Minister K. Bielecki described the SSM as an example of stalinist barbarism, destroying not only the nation's spiritual culture but also material culture (G.W. 3.4.91).

The conflict over the future of the SSM was outlined here against its economic and social background; the economic and ecological necessity for structural changes goes against the interests of the social structures created by communism. Apart from the economic and environmental interest of the country and the city, the special character of this conflict also results from the fact that the interest of the employees collides with the national interest of preserving the precious heritage of national history and culture from complete destruction. In stressing this aspect, one is not questioning the employees' reasons for their fears about the basis of their future existence. The aim here is to demonstrate to the workers, authorities, and the general public that it is necessary to look for an alternative solution to the superficially simplest one, i.e., the maintenance of the ore-processing section, covered with the fig leaf of supposed "modernization", which means construction of the continuous steel-making line (COS), financed by public money without previous evaluation of the economic profitability of such investment (as pointed out by Ernest Skalski). Keeping the ore-processing section undoes the sense of restoring the historic buildings of Cracow; their renovation cannot catch up with the rate of devastation, which makes all the effort a Sisyphean labour. It also undermines Poland's credibility in countries that have committed financial resources to rescue Cracow. Using this help to eliminate so-called "low emissions", despite their importance would mean spending valuable means on a problem of secondary significance in comparison with threat posed to the Old Cracow by the steelworks.

If the authorities treated seriously the pro-ecological declarations and programs formulated by the former anti-communist opposition, their attitude towards the problem of the SSM could signal their credibility in environmental matters. Previous cabinets failed to cope with this problem, J. Olszewski's government being the worst offender in this respect, since it gave in to demands from the steel industry lobby and provided funds (government-guaranteed) for maintaining the ore-processing section. Cracow's municipal government supported this ill- begotten decision, destructive to the city, giving permission for this undertaking on 20.3.92.

Andrzej Delorme
ZB 10/92

GB No. 8, summer 1992 | Contents