From "Letters," THE NATION, June 16, 1984
PIE IN THE SKY
Santa Cruz, Calif.
I think that Daniel Singer ("Dawn in Poland," Sept. 18) 1s wrong when he writes that the alternatives facing Poland are a "transition to capitalism" or "new forms of economic democracy." I don't believe that a transition to capitalism is possible because there are no capitalists and there is no "money functioning as capital" (Marx) in Poland. Poland's private businesses are structured to operate within the framework of state planning. Without the economic security provided by the state, much of Poland's private sector would wither and die (agriculture probably being the exception). The real alternative in Poland is either a streamlined state socialism that would insert that country into the world capitalist economy and deliver consumer goods at the expense of full employment, job security, social services and environmental protection, or a democratic socialism that would retain full employment and job security, build up social services and pay a lot of attention to the environment and the quality of work and community life--at the expense of consumer goods. No country in the world has full employment, job security and consumer goods. Sweden is a possible exception; Poland isn't and won't be.
To put a complicated argument in crude shorthand: All that is unprecedented is not impossible (fortunately, since socialism is still really nonexisting). What the Poles and Hungarians (and tomorrow the Russians?) are trying to do--revive the private ownership of the means of production as a dominant form--is unprecedented. They are still in the process of inventing procedures for this transition. They cannot sell the country wholesale to foreigners. The primitive "entrepreneurs" (yesterday's swindlers and black marketers) cannot take it all. A large-scale transfer must involve present-day managers (hence the potential deal with the nomenklatura). In any case, basic production, fuel and power would remain in the hands of the state for quite a time, but the direction of the process would be unmistakable.
Indeed, the transition begins with some assets: (1) the class consciousness of international capital, which, after some hesitation, seems to be willing to provide financing to a Poland obeying the rules of the International Monetary Fund; (2) the conversion of the Solidarity leadership to the capitalist gospel and its agreement on this issue with the leadership of the Communist Party; (3) the total bankruptcy of the post-Stalinist system leading, through mistaken identification, to the (provisional?) discredit of all socialist solutions, to the idealization of the past and of the West and to the general belief that Capitalism is the only choice. It is only as they discover behind the idealized version the reality of the capitalist solution (unemployment, increased social inequalities, an even greater tyranny on the shop floor) that a large part of the population, led by the workers, may change its mind. Thus I believe the successful restoration of capitalism based on private property is not feasible, not because of any theoretical impossibility but because of social resistance based on the labor movement. The indispensable revival of socialist ideas in Eastern Europe (including the Soviet Union) that would be so useful now will, I fear, take place only after a period of moves designed to restore classical capitalism. Very interesting ideas connecting modes of production, patterns of consumption and social justice are compressed in Professor O'Connor's letter; if he were to develop them they could serve as a basis for a most useful debate, and one not limited to Eastern Europe.