In the 1980s and 90s, renowned Polish economist Tadeusz Kowalik played a leading role in the Solidarity movement, struggling alongside workers for an alternative to “really-existing socialism” that was cooperative and controlled by the workers themselves. In the ensuing two decades, “really-existing” socialism has collapsed, capitalism has been restored, and Poland is now among the most unequal countries in the world. Kowalik asks, how could this happen in a country that once had the largest and most militant labor movement in Europe?
This book takes readers inside the debates within Solidarity, academic and intellectual circles, and the Communist Party over the future of Poland and competing visions of society. Kowalik argues that the failures of the Communist Party, combined with the power of the Catholic Church and interference from the United States, subverted efforts to build a cooperative and democratic economic order in the 1990s. Instead, Poland was subjected to a harsh return to the market, resulting in the wildly unequal distribution of the nation’s productive property—often in the hands of former political rulers, who, along with foreign owners, constitute the new capitalist class. Kowalik aptly terms the transformation from command to market economy an epigone bourgeois revolution, and asks if a new social transformation is still possible in Poland.
The rise of Solidarity, a working class movement of protest at the austerity policies of the Polish Government in the 1970s and 1980s, shook the Communist world. At the center of that movement’s policy and ideological discussions from 1980s was Tadeusz Kowalik, Poland’s leading political economist. In this book he relates how the Solidarity initiative and the political transformation that it wrought was taken over by free-market enthusiasts who have condemned Poland to a quarter of a century of economic stagnation, mass unemployment, and poverty. His scholarly book is an authoritative account of how the Polish transformation betrayed the Polish working class and its aspirations.
Finally, a true picture of what Polish workers struck and struggled for and what they got ten years later when the first Solidarity government was hijacked by American advice and pressure for capitalism. This is a crucial look at what people lost in the transition and why Poles voted out those first ‘reformers’ and Poland shifted from the radical right to reformed communists and back again for the next almost two decades. Only with this vision of one of Solidarity’s first key economic advisors can we understand what has happened in East and West Europe when building capitalism trumps providing even minimal social welfare.
This is a dramatic and excellent book. It reflects the bitter disappointment of the author, a hero of the Solidarity Revolution in Poland, and a superb economist. He is deeply disappointed by the ‘perverse result of the Solidarity Revolution,’ the rise of an unjust socio-economic regime. This factually and theoretically rich, highly critical work is also strongly personal and a cry for a liberal-democratic, socially just Poland. Anybody who is interested in Central Europe and the post-communist transformation has to read it.
The meandering (and still unfinished) itinerary of the East-European transformation from planned to market economy has never been told with such detail, sobriety and clarity. This study by Tadeusz Kowalik, the most prominent among the close observers and acute analysts of the most seminal episode of recent European history, is bound to become the standard reference for all future inquiries into the manifest and latent alternatives of the on-going and perhaps unfinishable search for good society and its workable economic model.
Now we have a genuine ‘insider’ analysis by the prominent Polish political economist Tadeusz Kowalik (1926–2012) of how in his country an old economic system was created from the ashes of the new.