Poland could remake communist history

For one man, the extraordinary Polish party congress will be extraodinary indeed. That is Edward Gierek, who for 50 years -- from his youth as a miner in France -- has been a Communist Party activist but who, when the congress ends, seems likely to be no longer a member of the party he headed through the 1970s.

He took over the leadership after the food-price riots in the Polish Baltic ports in December 1970.His fall came last summer during a wave of strikes in the same region provoked by his own disastrous economic policies. The strikes later spread throughout Poland.

A commission of inquiry, whose report the congress will consider, investigated not only Gierek and other leaders' responsibility for Poland's near bankcruptcy and collapse, but also the torrent of public charges that they had misused their office for personal gain and an extravagant life style in staggering contrast with that of the country at large.

Mr. Gierek had already been named in another inquiry as one of three former party secretaries, along with over 80 former ministers and deputy ministers and as many party officials, found prima facie guilty of irregularities in acquiring property and lavish homes.

The new party leadership is uncomfortably aware that such a development is without precedent in the communist world. This above all is the first time a congress convenes with the party's former leader under a threat of expulsion on grounds of political accountability and charges that could take him into the courts.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.