Polish Communist Party - down but not out
Who is governing Poland now -- the communists or the generals? And, if the latter, for how long?Skip to next paragraph
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It could be, as a leading member of the government said Jan. 12, ''a matter of weeks.'' Nothing is clear yet.
Twenty-one top-ranking officers from the armed forces make up the Military Council of National Salvation, which took over the country when martial law was proclaimed Dec. 13.
At present its word is law -- in everything from the operation of military administration in terms of troops and tanks (and riot police) down to the nuts and bolts of every corner of every Pole's life.
Will the council last, as chairman General Jaruzelski said, only as long as it takes to restore ''law and order'' and clean up the radical opposition, while the battered Communist Party picks up the pieces to try a fresh start?
All the council's members are longstanding members of the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP), to use the party's official postwar name.
Jaruzelski himself became a party member soon after the war, when he was a junior officer, even though his family had been landed gentry and he had gone to Jesuit schools.
He has been a member of the Politburo since 1968. Since Oct. 18 he has served as head of the party as well as of government, and been defense minister to boot. He has rarely been seen out of uniform since he became prime minister nearly 12 months ago.
But, politically, which of his roles comes first under military rule?
On the face of it, it is the Army that is making or approving all decisions. There is no visible sign of an early break in the deadlock to dialogue with Solidarity and the Roman Catholic Church.
The party's claim to the ''leading role'' in all spheres of society in the orthodox communist pattern was in tatters when General Jaruzelski decreed martial law almost five weeks ago.
Since then the party has to all intents and purposes gone out of business, although its central apparatus has apparently remained intact. Solidarity had badly underestimated this.
Only one Communist Party in postwar Eastern Europe has suffered a worse eclipse under crisis than the PUWP. In 1956, after the crushing of the uprising, the Hungarian party mustered only 103,000 members out of 900,000. It took four years to get back to 400,000.
In 1968, 200,000 resigned from the Czechoslovak party after the Russians moved in. Another 300,000 were purged in the ''normalization'' instituted by the post-Dubcek regime in 1969. But this was nothing like the Polish party's disintegration. The Czechoslovak party still had about 1 million members; it has since rebuilt its numbers.
All last year, the Polish party was falling apart. Its leadership was losing credibility with society at large, especially with the workers who formed its power base.
The show of internal democratization at the party's July congress brought a brief slowdown in decline. But, by December, officials were admitting that membership had slumped further. In four months it dropped from 3.2 million to at most 2.5 million.
The drain has accelerated, with party cards being returned from all areas of the country. Some reports say membership is now below 2 million.
Many of the dropouts are those younger men and women who were optimistic enough last summer to ''give the party a chance.'' They became candidate members but now have given up in despair.
At the Central Committee's last meeting, Nov. 27-28 (it has not met since the emergency began) a Politburo member presented a grim picture of organizational disarray, ideological and political ''emasculation,'' a paralysis of local party units, a party riven from top to bottom by factions and internal conflict and no longer functioning as a coherent force.
Despite all this, it would be wrong to underestimate the communist essence of the military council, or to see it as some sort of ''junta'' in the Latin American mold, seizing power and intending to hold on to it indefinitely as long as there is a reformer or a Solidarity unionist in sight.
Or to see the party as down for the ''final count.'' The Russians will not allow that to happen.
Nor, say most outsiders who have observed him in action since last February, is General Jaruzelski to be seen as some kind of ''Bonapartist.'' There is no record that any of the top military men around him have personal political ambitions, either.