Poland could remake communist history
The emergency Communist Party congress opening here today against a background of threatened new labor unrest is going to determine the future of Poland.Skip to next paragraph
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At issue is whether there is to be a "Polish road to socialism." In other words, a new form of Polish communism that will move the country toward a more truly open and democratic society.
Today's conference, which will vote on a new party leadership and liberalizations instituted since last summer's strikes shook this country and the whole East bloc, will also determine if Poland can extricate itself from its economic morass.
The challenge to the Polish leadership is whether promised reforms will cut deeply enough to ensure a genuinely clean break with the autocratic past.
The speed with which change has already come about is a matter of urgent concern to the Kremlin, which is always suspicious of any deviation by one of its allied parties from Soviet orthodoxy and the Soviet party's claim to a leading role in the world communist movement. The concern is particularly acute in Poland because it sits astride vital communication lines for the Soviet Union.
Moscow -- which had earlier hoped to forestall a congress touching on sensitive ideological issues and the "security" of the communist alliance -- will keep an eagle eye on proceedings. The Soviets are apparently reconciled to the conference, but not without considerable misgivings.
Any suggestion of grass-roots representation through more democratic party elections in any of the East European parties has always troubled the Soviet leaders. Poland is no exception.
The elction of 1,964 delegates to this congress on the basis of free nominations and secret ballot -- unprecedented in the East bloc -- has resulted in a congress in which 80 percent of the delegates are new.
More than two-thirds of the members of the Communist Party's Central Committee failed to win nomination as delegates from their local organizations. Four Politburo members also failed. They will attend only by virtue of their present office. (The Central Committee carries out party policy as laid down by the top ruling body, the Politburo, between congresses.) Through local committee elctions, over 3,000 former regional, town, rural, and factory party organization officials also fell by the wayside.
There are other anxieties for a Kremlin leadership perturbed that reforms in Poland will result in similar demands from other East European countries.
The projected new party statute, for instance, contains strong guarantees and safeguards against a return to the party's former autocratic methods.
It provides, instead, for democratic practices that will take it far from the conventional dictatorial working of the Soviet and East European parties.
Instead of handing down cut-and-dried policy decisions as they have done until now, the Politburo and Central Committee will have to consult with, and report to, the membership at large in a way unknown in normal communist party practice.
From now on the party leadership will have to make itself accountable to the membership at large with a built-in right for the party membership to recall the congress if the leadership is seen to deviate from established party policy.
In what could be one of its most striking examples of democratization, the Polish Communist Party might make history by electing its leader by a vote of all the delegates at one of the first sessions of today's opening congress. Such a move is entirely without precedent in the communist movement. The normal practice of all Soviet bloc parties and affiliates, including the Poles, is to have only the Central Committee handpick its leadership.
Under this practice, the committee elects the top party body (Politburo or Presidium), which then names the first secretary.
The delegates here will vote on three proposed variants:
1. The leader be elected by congress before it proceeds later to the election of the Central Committee -- a method reflecting the demand of the reform-minded majority within the party itself and among the delegates.
2. The delegates make their choice in a full delegate vote but after the election of the committee.