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Young Poles join party to reform it from within

By Eric BourneSpecial correspondent to The Christian Science Monitor / April 20, 1981


Jan Z. is one of the younger, better-educated Communist Party members who are disillusioned by their party's record but stay on because they are convinced it can be changed only from within.

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"We are not counting very much on initiatives from the leadership," he says. "Our optimism is based on the activity in the party base. There is no other way."

With Jan's working-class background and specialized education, he had never found party membership really necessary. But a year or so ago, he realized that nonmembership would hinder his job advancement and that joining the party was the only way he could get involved in the effort to evolve a more democratic process. He became a member.

Since last summer, nearly 70,000 members have resigned from the party. Probably at least twice as many went inactive. Others were expelled in the anticorruption campaign.

Yet, in the same period, the party has enrolled 25,000 candidate members. Most of them seem to think membership is the only way to help things improve.

There is little ideology involved. It is a question, Jan says, of being realistic about politics and power in Poland. (He considers himself a democratic socialist.)

"As things are," he says, "there is only the one party that counts and, whatever its imperfections and failures so far, it's going to stay that way.

"Many people were so disappointed over the past 25 years they want no more to do with it. But in time it can be different because of the change deep down in the party roots. For the first time the rank and file is making itself heard."

Three times since it took power after World War II, the party has been rocked by popular revolt. Twice -- in 1956 and 1970 -- new leaders seemed briefly to offer hope. For Mr. Kania, in 1980, there was a critical, cautious acceptance.

Only the changes and the radical "renewal" that 80 percent of the party's rank and file are demanding with ever-growing determination are going to give the party a new, credible image, the new younger members feel.

The movement is snowballing. All over the country party organizations at all levels are electing new officers and committees through unrestricted nominations and secret ballot. They are choosing delegates to the special party congress in July the same way.

Moreover, the local organizations are linking up in powerful regional groups, as at Torun in the industrial north. On April 15 in Torun, 500 delegates, including party activists from nearly 40 big plants, vociferously demanded far-reaching changes in the hierarchy and virtually public top committee meetings.

One way the former leadership lost touch with grass-roots opinion was by having a local party boss assure the election of a particular person to a given post simply by mentioning that he or she was a "good comrade."

"Being a 'good comrade' meant someone who did not ask awkward questions," Jan says. "Authentic criticism was not wanted. There was discussion at lower levels. But nothing of what they were thinking and feeling ever got to the top."

It was the way to get on. "A good activist, with good connections, made a career far quicker than anyone who wanted to say what he really thought."

The party has a big apparatus, amounting to several thousand when you count from the Central Committee based in Warsaw down to the ubiquitous network of local organizations. They -- and a host of party appointees to top jobs in management and administration -- used membership as a springboard for career promotion.