Can Poles feed themselves?

The Polish crisis has revealed many facts hitherto obscured by the communist regime of the country. One of them is that Poland is facing an agricultural crisis of first magnitude and that without the import of foodstuffs will be threatened with near-famine. How is it possible that a country where about 26 percent of all gainfully employed people still work on the land finds itself in such a predicament?

To answer this question one has to remember that Poland has been ruled, since 1945, by people professing a doctrine inimical to peasants. Karl Marx, a city boy with little knowledge of life and work in the countryside, had a thoroughly negative attitude towards peasants. He went as far as to say that one of the crowning achievments of modern capitalism was that it saved the modern proletariat "from the idiocy of rural life." His ideal was agricultural workers employed in state-run "factories" of grain and other produce.

This collectivist and suspicious attitude has been inherited by the communists of our day, including those of Poland.

During the middle and late 1950s, under the overwhelming pressure of the sulking and rebellious peasantry, the Polish regime had to abandon its forcible collectivization drive and return most of the land to private farmers. This was made necessary also by the near catastrophic state of the country's food production.

But the Polish party never completely jettisoned the eventual objective of driving the independent-minded and fiercely individualistic Polish peasants back into some form of agricultural collectives. Unable to attack the individual farmers frontally, the party adopted a strategy of indirect approach: it has tried to prove, by hook or by crook, that private farming does not pay and that individual farmers should join either collective or state farms.

To keep strong and efficient workers on the land, agricultural earnings should be roughly comparable with those of city workers. But in Poland labor is quite cheap when compared with most developed nations; instead of making the best of this, agricultural wages have been allowed to decline drastically as compared with the wages paid to other categories of workers. As a result, a great exodus has taken place from the countryside to the cities, leaving behind mainly elderly people. By now the average age of farmers in the private sector is nearing 60 and is rapidly going up.

At the same time the value of agricultural land has been steadily falling. While in the US the average price of farmland equals the value of its potential production over eight years in Poland it now amounts to approximately one year of its estimated output. As a consequence, large tracts have been abandoned or handed over by elderly and/or exasperated private farmers to the state.

Moreover the communist regime, while paying lip service to "scientific farming" in general, has channeled most of its assistance not to individual peasants but to the state farms which are supposed to be models of "the highest form of socialist farming." Although the state farms cover only about 20 percent of the land, they have been getting a lion's share of technical assistance and 70 percent of budget investments alloted to agriculture. Despite this, the state farms have been considerably less productive per acre than individual peasants.

Still another problem is the government's failure to keep agricultural prices at an adequate level so as to provide farmers with convenient credits. As in the case of technical aid, for ideological reasons the government has grossly favored the inefficient state farms while neglecting the individual farmers. For years the prices of grain were artificially maintained at a low level, while prices of agricultural implements were inflated beyond the reach of an individual peasant. By now a plow costs more per unit of weight than a Fiat 125 sedan, still a luxury.

Thus, the communist regime of Poland practiced a bias against the most hard-working and productive segment of its people, just to chase the double goal of a "socialist mode of food production" and superindustrialization of the economy.

The remedy for this situation is obvious and simple: a reversal of the absurd neglect of the agricultural sector, starved of state credits, technical advice, and the most elementary supplies. The fundamental unit in Polish farming should be the peasant family farm. This should be recognized in state legislation.

It is also necessary to change pricing policy. At the moment there is no correlation between production costs and market prices. Also, sufficient amounts of fertilizer should be made available to individual peasants. And they should be rewarded not in accordance with abstract calculations of ideologically motivated planners in Warsaw but with the real market value of their produce.

Let's hope that the establishment of "Rural Solidarity" will create a pressure group strong enough to impress upon the regime the necessity of dramatically reversing its catastrophic agrarian policy.

According to agricultural experts, Poland could be made self-sufficient in foodstuffs within about five years provided the government changes its present ideologically motivated suicidal policy.

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