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The Economic Ideas Of The Round Table

The Economic Ideas of the Round Table

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When the round table talks commenced in early 1989, there were aimed to make particular concessions which included legalising Solidarity. After the elections of 1989, there was a radical shift in Solidarity regarding Poland’s economic ideas. According to Lawrence Weschler, it was one of the most flummoxing ironies in Poland’s recent triumph which the success can now be opening onto a newfangled atomization.”

Weschler noted:

While Solidarity, in its first flower, was a decidedly egalitarian phenomenon, it very name tapped into a century- old reservoir of socialist rhetoric, the Solidarity that emerged from the half decade of repression was much more in thrall to the romance of the free market.

Two main competing economic ideas were evolving in Poland at the time.

  1. The first idea represented the neoliberal view, which was based on socioeconomic—the mechanism for affecting the transition (known as market capitalism);
  2. The second idea represented the market socialism view, which the ‘visible hand’ of the state intervention played a significant role in firm industrial policies, particularly throughout the transition period.  

Consequently, the new government selected the neoliberal idea when they appointed Balcerowicz who had already been working with his team on various aspects of the transition to market capitalism. At the time, the government was being represented by Mieczyslaw Rakowski; and in his discourse to the 10th Plenum of PZPR, he addressed the economic and political hardships that Poland was currently facing and pointed out that the idea of the ‘round-table’ was a way of attaining a solution to the economic plague in Poland.  

Therefore, “the policy of accord and struggle gave birth to the idea of the round-table,” which were intended to advance from proclamations to deliberation and from a slight pace to a grand stride in the direction of a general consensus with the opposition.

This concurrence would include the political pattern of Poland’s future, the involvement and limitations pertaining to the opposition’s participation in society—which included the work in parliament—and the opposition’s mutual responsibility for the reform and the state. Besides the decisions regarding the topics for discussions that required attention during the ‘round-table’ talks, they also realized that they had to discuss socioeconomic reformation and Poland’s trade Union movement model.

…the aim to reach such a compromise is not to result of our weakness or impotence. On the contrary, unlike the opposition, we hold powerful trump cards, the most powerful of which is an extensive program of socioeconomic reforms. The opposition does not have such a program. Basically, all the opposition is doing is making faces and saying no to everything, or repeating the objectives already contained in our own program. In Poland, only the left wing is capable of breaking this stagnation (referring to the stagnation of political stagnation if occurred), and indeed it has done so. This happened the moment we embarked upon the path of reforming our socioeconomic system.

It was clear that the government was already embarking on the process of liberalization. However, the idea that was embraced by the government was not toward market capitalism but, rather, to allow for self-government and worker participation via a worker’s council, which was in line with the Solidarity position. Thus, one can argue that both sides concurred with adopting ‘market socialism’ rather than ‘market capitalism.’

It can be argue that the radical ‘epistemic’ change in economic ideas of Solidarity came as a result of ‘a battle of ideas’ within the movements itself. It is important not to classify Solidarity as a unified entity but as a movement that was composed of different ideologies and social classes.

It can further be argued that the imposition of Martial Law in 1981 had weakened the movement, causing the movement to become absorbed with political issues rather than unionist problems. Not only was Solidarity weakened by years of repression and underground activities, but it was also enfeebled by the Party itself. As previously discussed, the government lost its legitimacy and was viewed by the majority of people in Polish society as them vs. us.

In the words of Jacek Kuroń:

It is obvious that in the moment when we approach the Round Table, the situation is that the movement had burned out. I and everyone that acted back then know that, even if they don’t tell that aloud. During those last strikes, we were trying to mobilize the crews, put a great effort into that, to regain Solidarity back then, when Walesa was striking in the Shipyard. They were locked inside, together with Mazowiecki. So we were trying to rouse that but it was not working. Young men, a bit just like in the Shipyard- young people went on strikes. The classic example is Zbyszek Bujak. He escaped his bodyguards, went to Ursus, urged them to begin a strike, and they did not even move. They were fed up; they had no trust that the movement might change anything

Tadeusz Kowalik noted that Rakowski government already presented free market idea in their “ manifesto of the free-market economy was first of all the Law on Economic Activity passed by the parliament on December 23,1988.” It is important to now turn to the discussion of the economic ideas that were agreed upon at the end of the Round Table talks  in April 1989.  

It is equally important to note that Solidarity initial economic ideas were in line with socialist ideals, such as protection of worker’s rights (e.g. full employment, health insurance, housing, etc…), which was perplexing to conceive how a worker’s movement turned out being against the workers. Some scholars attributed to the structural situation of Polish economy while others explained this rapid adoption to market economy as pressure from international financial institutions. While the role of all of these factors cannot be denied, it basically highlights another factor: the rise of neoliberal ideas at the time of extraordinary politics. Therefore, it can also be argued that political transition had created a windows of opportunity for new economic ideas to emerge.

One of the major point that both the government and opposition agreed on was that it was of the utmost importance for reforms of the state to occur, “in accordance with the national raison d’état” via evolution. However, taking an evolutionary approach towards implementing change can be endangered by actions which are extreme or by the actions of “conservative opponents of reforms.”

At the round table, there was an agreement between the government and Solidarity regarding the need for an evolutionary economic change in society.  The government (the coalition) was headed by Władysław Baka an economist from Warsaw University who was specialized on monetary banking system.  Solidarity (the opposition counterpart) was headed by Witold Trzeciakowski, who was an economist well acquainted with Western writings and a high-class foreign trade expert who “never had any particular hopes relating to socialism.”

The New Economic Order that both the government and the opposition approved was based on seven principles:

  1. the development of self-government and workers participation;
  2. free evolution of types of ownership;
  3. the development of market relations and competition;
  4. elimination of the remnants of the command-directive system and restriction of central planning to shaping the state’s economic policy;
  5. a policy implemented with the aid of economic instruments;
  6. a uniform financial policy toward enterprises;
  7. subordinating the mechanisms for the selection of managerial personnel at enterprises to criterion of professional competence.

The government and the opposition approved the worker’s self-governments.  It can be concluded here that the government and Solidarity were inclined to the idea of third way. However, after the elections of 1989, these economic ideas rejected and the new government adopted neoliberal economic idea instead.


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