Poland sets out on unprecedented democratic course

The more militant reformers may be disappointed, but the communist leadership here has launched the party on a more democratic course without parallel within the Soviet bloc.

As endorsed by the Communist Party Central Committee meeting April 29, it foreshadows major changes in party organizational practice in favor of genuine rank-and-file participation on a freely elective basis at all levels.

A start was made at this session by bringing in four newcomers -- two industrial workers and two provincial party officials -- into the Politburo and its secretariat.

The process will be taken much further at the July congress, with an anticipated big infusion of workers directly engaged in production into the larger Central Committee. The steps toward a more democratic party, a more independent authority for parliament and the so-called "renewal" promised in all aspects of public life will be elaborated in a new party program to be submitted to "national discussion" before the congress.

Three million party members will take part in the drafting of a new party statute to guarantee democratic elective procedures and to make its officials much more accountable to the rank and file.

No other East European party has embarked on so thorough a modification of its methods, not even the pragmatic Hungarian party, which has introduced many substantial "liberal" reforms since the 1960s, but which are more economic than political. Hungarian trade unions are "autonomous," not "independent" like Solidarity here.

In the reformed Polish party the emphasis will be on "guiding" rather than commanding, as the main political force in society.

The "central role" is to be preserved but will possibly be less pronounced, as the party leader, Stanislaw Kania, indicated in his speech to the April 29 meeting, and it is to be made more democratic. His concerns are clearly two:

* To reassert and maintain the unity of the party. This is implicit in the rejection of continued rank-and-file demands for the removal of leading officials seen here as at best lukewarm on real reform, or even hostile to it.

These include members of the Politburo evidently favorably regarded by the Russians as a necessary brake on the more adventurous reformers. (The four officials dropped at this meeting included the former premier, Jozef Pinkowski, whose departure from the Politburo had been only a question of time. The other three were minor figures.)

* To broaden the middle ground within the party, to win the same support from workers outside it and project the country as a whole on a politically and ideologically "safe" middle road of reform.

The many militants in the grass roots pressing for radical changes in the party structure are likely to voice their disappointment -- there already are moves under way to keep up the pressures -- but the impression is growing that the need for moderation is being recognized.

There is a calmer situation now and a feeling that the government should be given the chance to get on with its daunting tasks in the economy. Moreover, the psychological pressures from Poland's allies have been diminished -- except, that is, on the sensitive point symbolized by recent activist demands that would , in effect, put current arbitrary policy-deciding authority on a broader representative basis.

Mr. Kania could well describe this kind of activity -- as he did in his speech -- as a breath of fresh air in party discussions on resolving the party's and the country's crisis. But it is anathema to the Russians, as it proved in 1968 in Czechoslovakia when an earlier reform-minded leadership allowed too much control to slip from its hands.

Mr. Kania, therefore, might welcome the activist line as a sign of revival of party life but not more than that. He is too well aware that he must reckon with acute Soviet anxiety about any such challenge and about the downhill slide in party discipline after last August; and that this relates to the principal criteria for the Kremlin's "confidence" that its allies can master the situation themselves.

The party leadership apparently feels the decline has been halted. At least a quarter of a million members turned in their cards, but the drain is said to have stopped some weeks ago.

The fear now is that excessive demands from the rank and file could, as Mr. Kania expressed it, "undermine the proven Leninist structure, strike at party unity, and cause splits and factions." No one doubts that, should that come about, Soviet support for and confidence in the present leadership would quickly be withdrawn a nd that whatever shape they took, the consequences would not be good for Poland.

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