Zdzisław Rurarz, Washington, D.C., USA

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Location Washington, D.C., USA
Length 36:59

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Is Nowa Huta a communist fortress now?

No, it was supposed to be a model socialist city. Even a church was not built. However, it turned out that Nova Huta is primarily a Catholic city with strong pro-Solidarity sympathies. So everything is absolutely upside down.

What was the main feature of the economic system that communists imposed on Central Europe?

Well, in Poland it was introduced in stages, of course. Nevertheless from the very beginning the government had control over the economy. And very soon afterwards, the Plan, the so-called Central Plan, became the main strategy of economic development. Economic directives by the government, I mean by the State Planning Commission and other ministries and so on, became the instruments of fulfilling the plan. And the so-called index of global production became the main indicator of economic activity for the factories and so on, where certain targets, quantitative or in value terms, had to be achieved, quite simply. And this, by the way, was that the main reason for wastefulness in a centrally planned economy, because the cost factor was absolutely secondary.

So in some sense, there was no sense of value in their system.

Oh, no. Yes. The so called law of value, as it is called, was killed almost altogether.

Did the role of the military and defense spending play a part in distorting the plan?

Oh yes, definitely so. In Poland especially so, I would say, because at first, during the so-called first three-year plan, covering the period of 1947-1949, the defense industry was practically nonexistent, and besides, there was no emphasis on defense at all. But in the next plan, the six-year plan, covering the period of 1950-1955, very little was allocated to defense originally, but later in 1951, because of the Korean War and the so-called Cold War, the plan was redrafted and the main emphasis was put on the defense industries. And powerful defense industries were built at that time, and of course they were continued later.

Did political interference with the plan the economic plan create problems?

Oh yes, of course. Both ideological and political influence had been decisive from the very beginning. The economy had to respond to certain ideological and political priorities, like for instance, full employment. Or, the very economic targets were also dictated by ideological and political considerations. Apart from that the party interfered on a daily basis with all economic activities, starting from nominating factory managers and ending with using the workers for many political actions and so on. And all that of course introduced a completely new factor in economic activity, spoiling the workforce, management and of course leaving a lot of room for laymen to run the economy.

Was there a sense in which the political culture of the one-party state actually made economic efficiency impossible?

Yes. Why? Because that was immediately accompanied by such, let's say, political factors, like, for instance, the censorship. And lack of any criticism by competing political parties, so that whatever one Party was doing in the economic domain was practically a sanctity of its wisdom. You know, you could not say “That is wrong” when it comes to targets and then when it comes to performance. No, everything was quite simply almost a sainthood, you know. That was a monopoly of wisdom and unfortunately with time, the effects of all that became that much apparent even for the Party.

Did economists try to introduce some sort of rationality in the system and how were they responded to?

Yes, well they did, in Poland especially. For instance, Oskar Lange, that known socialist who taught in the United States, Czesław Bobrowski and the others. They tried to introduce some kind of, as Oskar Lange used to say, rationality in economic activity. And at first there was some, I must say, until the end of 1948. Later, that was totally abandoned. And again later there were some efforts to reintroduce this. But the Soviets would never allow any economic reforms in Poland, unlike in Hungary, by the way. For strategic reasons and so on. And again, this was abandoned. And what will be next? Well, we shall see.

To what extent did the economic system actually have some positive benefits initially?

Well, I think that that two, I would say, positive aspects could be stressed. Namely, when it comes to the rate of savings. A centrally planned economy can do this. I am not talking about the cost factor or the wisdom why that should be done, but nevertheless, the so-called mobilisation of savings is rather a simple matter under a centrally planned economy, and the second one is a selective growth, that in certain domains you can achieve something. Regardless of cost. And of course for a certain time this maybe even a positive factor. It only remains to be seen what next, because of course an unbalanced growth and so on creates problems. And of course this had to be corrected in the future, but it never really was corrected and…

Why did the system become less and less successful and the move was made from heavy industries to consumer industries and so on? Why did it become less successful?

Well, I would say that the main explanation to that is that apart of wastefulness, which is inherently built into the system, I think that defence considerations play an absolutely important, if not decisive role. That, with a limited production base… For instance, the Warsaw Pact is certainly outspending NATO when it comes to military hardware. Having a much narrower economic base. This perforce is pushing those economies towards certain activities, which must be unprofitable. And of course, which are a heavy burden. I must say when I was Gierek’s economic advisor, I tried to learn what actually the share of defence spending is in Poland’s GNP. I could never find the right statistics, but according to my calculations it was at least 15% if not 20%. So this is a heavy burden.

I’ll take you back briefly to the 50s. Can you give an example of how the Party’s political interference, particularly choice of personnel, actually have distorted giving the right man the right job on the factory floor? Your example, the family.

When it comes not only to managers, because the manager had to be a politically trusted man, usually a parity activist, not only a member, a member of Party authorities. But even the workers soon learned that being a Party member may be actually an advantageous thing to them. For example, I knew a concrete case from a family with which I had contacts in my provincial town. In a foundry the workers had various stands at a certain distance from a blast furnace. And of course, those who were closer to the blast furnace could much easier meet their production targets than those who were further away. So, if you are a party activist, you could count that you would be closer to the blast furnace. And so this was something which of course the workers soon learned. And they were joining the party simply to earn more.

Is there a problem now in getting the workers actually to work?

Well, over the years, this full employment, which I think socially is good, but nevertheless, in strictly economic terms, was bad. The employing goal meant that you had to employ more than actually needed and pay them less on an average scale, so those who were really good and wanted to work were relatively earning less. So, that was a disincentive. So this certainly spoiled, I would say, the work habits, because many quite simply even if they felt they could do more, why? While those who were not particularly, I would say, hardworking people were somehow tolerated. You could practically not fire such a worker.

One of the solutions, one of the reforms now being implemented in Eastern Europe is the brigade system was called the GMK in Hungary. What do you think of this system? How would you evaluate it economically?

Well, I'm sorry to say I don't believe in any viable reforms in the communist countries, quite simply. Because ideologically speaking, it is still not decided where these reforms can lead to. Nobody really knows. There are certain, I would say, palliatives. Believing that this perhaps may improve that and so on and so on, but a clear direction, is still, I must say, ideologically not decided. And even recently, when it comes to Poland, it is said recently that private property is not a solution to anything. That this is a naive approach. Now, all this so-called market mechanism under socialism, being completely divorced from, let's say, the mode of ownership is, I would say, senseless. I am in an agreement that, temporarily speaking, any retreat from a highly centralised model can have positive features. But once you have said A and B, you must continue until Z or something. And nobody knows what is even C or D, forgetting about Z. So this is, I must say, the problem and I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the Hungarian reform, neither about Yugoslavian and much less about the Polish or Soviet reforms.

What in particular do you think won't work about the brigade system? GMK system that’s been introduced?

The brigade system. I think that this, well. By the way, that is nothing new. Even in the market economies there is something like that and this is borrowed from the market economy. I think actually two, I’d say, targets have been included here. One is to increase the productivity of labour by having a sort of a contract with a group of workers. If they can achieve certain production targets, they may be paid more. Secondly, this is, I would say, to discourage their interest in self-government in the factories because they are only materially interested in earning more money, forgetting about any other things. And this is very much encouraged by the Soviets. And by the way, recently in Poland also. And this is even conflicting with this idea, in Poland, of self-government in factories and so on. So, that’s what it is. However, when it comes to the so-called brigades, they not always can meet these, let's say, targets independently of them. They don't know whom to blame for that and so on. So this is in a way again a bad solution, but…

Are you saying that they don't have control over things like certain key inputs?

Yes, yes exactly.

Could you please give a concrete example of what you mean?

Well, for instance, let's say that they are building a house. And then they do not get cement or bricks or something like that. Then they cannot meet the target. Of course they blame the management that they have not supplied to them those inputs. They may say “Sorry, this is not our fault. Somebody else failed.” And so on, and finally there is no guilty one. And in the meantime, nobody really knows whom to blame. And in the meantime, the workers of course are not interested in any other, let's say, system, they accept it. They only want to earn more.

We know there are ideological objections from the Party to private enterprise, but are there perhaps also resentments or objections to private enterprise and reintroducing the market mechanism amongst the workers?

Yes, I’d say yes. Yes, what is unfortunately true about all the socialist countries, for whatever historical reasons, people have been accustomed to certain egalitarian attitude. Everybody wants to be rich, but nobody should be richer than themselves. And therefore, I must say that the Party is capitalising on this sentiment. They know that private businesses are not particularly well seen even by the opposition to the communist regime, because who is the opposition? Mainly the workers, and it's quite unimaginable that the workers would be willing to restore the private ownership of the factories. That is not yet the case.

Is there a problem about this whole economic system? The problem of information, false information, inaccurate information?

Oh, yes.

Could you describe that?

Well, now it is a bit better than it was in the past, but in the past the situation was absolutely hopeless. Even this power centre. Take for instance the Central Committee. When I was Gierek’s advisor, economic advisor, in the period of September 1971 until the end of December 1972, we in the Central Committee did not have all the basic information about the functioning of the economy. That was supposed to be in in the government. But in in the government, again, there were, how to say, various statistical data depending on who could see them. For instance, when it comes to defence matters. Practically nobody being in the civilian part of the government knew them. Even those who were military could know only part of the truth and so on. And I must say, what is not really very much recognized in the West, that the government is cheating the Party when it comes to economic information.

For example?

Oh, for example… For instance, premier Jaroszewicz, during the so-called Gierek era, strictly forbade his subordinates to give any statistics to the Central Committee without his prior approval or to provide the Central Committee with the necessary information. So, whatever the Central Committee was receiving was filtered by him.

Is there even a more basic problem and that is that an ordinary factory manager may have a vested interest in lying to the level…?

Oh yes, everybody is lying before everybody. That is true. Factory manager is lying before his own crew and the crew is lying before him. Then all of them are lying before any superior body. Those superior bodies are lying before even still more superior. Than the government is lying before the Party. The Party is lying before the government. Everybody is. Well, I am absolutely positive that nobody has the clear picture of the situation.

Why are they all lying?

Well, there are both vested interests in lying. Quite simply, you may earn more by doing less if you lie intelligently, you know. That is one thing. Secondly, it is believed that many people should, quite simply, not know many things. It's better, you know. The West will not learn, you know, and so on. The people will not learn and so on. So it is believed that the less you know, the better, for many reasons. Apart from that, I think that quite simply, the leadership wants to believe in its own, let's say, success and so on. And is not prepared to face the harsh reality. If you know this, you are also lying before them, because you present to them only the data and the evaluation of the situation which is more or less in rosy colours, you know. Because otherwise you could be criticized. Quite simply. Or even fired.

Was there a strategy of buying technology from the West and trying to build that into the system to make up for the system shortcomings? And why did that fail, that strategy?

Well, there was, especially during the so-called Brezhnev-Kosygin era, a belief that you can actually avoid reforming the system by having more Western technology and credits. That somehow by using them you can. The system is basically right. What is only lacking is the inputs. So once you have such inputs, it is OK. Now, while having more money and more technology, the system was really not prepared to digest them efficiently. I mean, it digested but inefficiently. That was the problem. Quite simply. I remember when Poland was just about to start importing more Western technology and taking more credits. When that became known in the industry and elsewhere, everybody knew that the so-called widening or broadening of the bottlenecks in production… that the easiest way to remove them is through more imports. And even if they could do this on their own, they still would demand more imports, more Western technology and so on and so on, because that was easier. And that was costing them nothing. I must say that that many of the new opportunities were quite simply wasted because of all that. The system was not prepared for that.

Did the Polish Party collapse in the face of Solidarity in 1980?

Very much so. But again, I don't think it really collapsed. I must say the Polish Party is really like any communist party. It is composed of the, let's say, regular party and the hard core party which really counts. And what is hard core is mainly the so-called military police complex and some party and state apparatchiks. I wouldn't say they collapsed, they didn't collapse. While many others certainly did. And this was the explanation why this hard core part of the Party did what it did. I mean martial law. And that part of the party did not collapse. I must say that that hard core within the Polish Communist Party is by far more formidable force than in any communist party in Eastern Europe. Because look, in other Eastern European countries always the Soviets had to intervene, never in Poland. Because this hard core was by far more effective and reliable for the Soviets than anybody else.

Why is that, why? Why is this country a very strong…?

Yes, well, these are certain historical reasons. This is a combination of both Marxist Leninist and an old nationalism. Many hard core party members in Poland believe that whatever happens, you must be close to the USSR, and since the USSR at present is communist, you must be communist. Otherwise, they sometimes honestly believe the future of Poland as such is totally uncertain. Even because of territorial problems. The eastern frontier may remain as it is, while the western frontier may be changed in Poland's disfavour, so why to try to change something that can bring about a very uncertain future? I remember, by the way, when I came in June 1981 from Tokyo to Poland and I spoke with many people, including general Jaruzelski, everybody was telling this to me that Soviet intervention may bring about territorial changes. That Szczecin area can go to East Germany and Kłodzko Valley to Czechoslovakia because of their participation in intervention against Poland. So it's perhaps better to do away with Solidarity.

Were there party liberals in the Solidarity period, and have they now been totally disillusioned? Is there anything left of a liberal Polish Party?

Well, I would say, this is again hard to understand but even this hard core Party members may sometimes be quite liberal in their approach. There's only a question that sometimes they do not say this in public. I, for instance, was associated with this military police complex. However, I was more vociferous on that and so on. But many others were afraid because you have double loyalty: to the Party and to your superiors, whether in the military or in the secret police. And it is rather not tolerated. For you, if you have no clear order to be, let's say liberal or conservative or whatever, you must be more or less behaving correctly and not to try to be this or that, you know, unless you are ordered to.

There have been many attempts by liberal communists in 1956 and later in the ’60s too to change the system dramatically? Not every time they've been defeated. So are there any…?

Yes, they were defeated. They were defeated because, quite simply, and this I know for sure, they were not trusted by the Soviets. And it was believed that if they would come to the fore, and if they would try to rule the country, this would anger the Soviets and anything could happen. So it was better not to try this and therefore they were kicked out, quite simply.

How independent now is the government and state from the Party? What are the connections?

You will be astonished, but I believe it very much that the state is much more important than the Party. The Party certainly gives the direction, has a very general control over many things. However, what really counts in the Communist Party now is the state. Even if you are not a communist, but you are a state functionary, you must obey certain things, you must do them. If you are tax collector, you will do this. It doesn't matter that you may resent that. That is your job. And so on. Moreover, the state controls the Party in many ways. For instance, the military and the security police, which are officially the part of the state, they penetrate the Party apparatus. Many in high positions in the Party are in fact military or security police officers undercover. I was one of them, by the way. And even the so-called Polish statehood, for instance, has gone that far that, please note that in the new piece of legislation of November 1983, the most important institution in Poland is the so-called KOK in the Polish abbreviation – the Country’s Defence Committee, not the Politburo.

To what extent is this police military apparatchik core directly taking its line from the Soviet Union?

Oh, that is a good question. After all, Eastern Europe is Soviet dominated and the domination goes mainly through the military and through the security police. In Poland, through the military. In fact, the security police, unlike in the USSR or elsewhere, is subordinated to the military. The military, in fact, is the most important. That goes back to Stalin’s and other Soviet leadership conviction that Poland effectively could be run only by the armed forces, not by any political party or something like that. And they are quite faithful to that conviction. And therefore it was not accidental that the Minister of National Defence became the head of the government and of the Party in Poland. And that many generals were in many civilian positions, and so on. This is not accidental. I mean, Poland as the biggest, after the USSR, country in the Warsaw Pact is having a very important strategic position. And it is believed that the police should fight the Bundeswehr in case of war. That's the explanation.

Inside the Party nowadays, what is it like to be at a Party meeting?

Well, it depends where. Of course in the government or institutions and so on there is more party activists. When it comes to factories and so on, that is a different story. When it comes to the peasants, there's still another problem and so on. But nevertheless it is believed by many Party members that the only forum where they can speak out their minds, where they can… As I belonged to them, I saw that the only possibility to change something for the better in Poland is in the Party. Outside of the Party, you were silenced and many believe that that can work. And of course, I became disillusioned a long time ago. It doesn't work.

But nowadays, what is it like to be at a Party meeting? Is there enthusiasm?

No, there is no enthusiasm, especially in Poland. I mean, the Polish Party was never that much Marxist Leninist in its approach but there were of course also many genuine Marxist Leninists, but now, especially among the young, this is more or less dead. Therefore, the emphasis is now on the Polish statehood, rather, communist socialist, but statehood. And I believe that many are now not really believing that by coming out with various proposals and so on you can really change anything. But at the same time to be absent is again believed that this is not the solution either, and for some time this will last, this strange situation. And what will come next remains to be seen. I mean, Poland is definitely moving toward a kind of a corporatist state. That there are certain segments in the state which are interested in preserving the status quo, the military, first of all and so on. And this is becoming now the Polish solution, probably a model for other communist countries.
On December 15, ’82, after my defection, I was officially sentenced to death by the military court in Warsaw, deprived of my Polish citizenship, my property was confiscated, and for the time being I am alive. Hopefully, I will be living until I die one day. And normally, it is believed that all Warsaw Pact countries plus other communist countries are obliged to carry out the verdict, not only the Polish intelligence, but some intelligence services from those countries as well.

Were other people sentenced to death and why?

Yes, ambassador Spasowski also was and the head of the Polish section in Radio Free Europe was. Both of us, I mean with the ambassador we both were in the military intelligence service so that, I believe, is the gravest, how to say, accusation against us.

When was martial law planned?

As far as I know, the martial law was planned one week before Solidarity was officially founded. And when I was in Tokyo on March 27, 1981, when the general strike was in preparation following the so-called Bydgoszcz provocation. I received a cable in Warsaw, ordering me to proceed with certain measures in case martial law would be introduced. So it was then that I already officially heard about the martial law for the first time. Finally, it didn't come to the general strike, so the martial law was postponed by several months, but finally it was declared.

Did the Soviets know about this plan?

Oh, yes, There is no slightest doubt that not only did the Soviets know about the plan, but they very likely even perhaps suggested the idea. This is suggested by the changes in the Politburo membership and the very fact that a man who was a trusted Soviet man became the Prime Minister. And at that time, head of the Country's Defence Committee was the premier, not the head of the Party, what is quite important. So they already probably moved along those lines. However, even many of those who were preparing the martial law were perhaps convinced that that was to stave off the Soviet intervention, but I don't think the Soviets really were ever planning to intervene in Poland as long as they trusted that general Jaruzelski would do what he promised to do. I mean martial law. If he would of course change his mind, then the Soviet intervention would certainly materialise, but I don't think that there was such a dilemma for the Soviets.

Were the Party negotiations with Solidarity then sincere or not?

Well, I definitely am convinced that at least two negotiators: Mieczysław Jagielski especially, a vice premier and the Politburo member, and Kazimierz Barcikowski, who negotiated in Szczecin, already knew that they negotiate in bad faith, while the others in the delegation probably were honestly believing that that's the solution that the government or the Party was seeking.

Did Solidarity test the limits of what the communist system will tolerate and what were exactly all those limits?

Well, I think that the decisive thing which definitely signed the death sentence for Solidarity was not the very fact that they went on strike and they came out with various demands. They wanted to avoid any control by the Party. Finally, they agreed that they would be behaving according to the Constitution and so on. What was, of course, the Constitution was anticipating was that anything in the country must be led by the Party. So, that was indirectly approved. But nevertheless, the very fact that they did not want to be subordinated to the Party was a death sentence to Solidarity.

Can you describe the extent of Soviet penetration of Poland?

Well, Soviet penetration is very extensive and in Poland, which is perhaps quite difficult to understand to many in the West, it is much more widespread than in any other Eastern European country. Why? Because Poland is strategically more important and it’s the biggest country. And even for historical reasons. The Soviets had, how to put it, a base for recruitment. Don't forget that, by the end of the war, the Soviets had a 400,000 strong Polish army. Not to mention about security police and so on. At the same time, they had only 16,000 Czechoslovak troops. So this is the scale of comparison, not to mention Hungarians and Romanians. This was another story. And the Polish Communist Party was re-established in January ’42 by the Soviet military intelligence service (GRU). So, from the very beginning that penetration was absolutely extensive and it continues until this day. Now, finding hard evidence to that is quite difficult because, as you know, Poland and no other Eastern European country wages any counterintelligence or intelligence operations against the USSR. So you cannot arrest any spy or sentence him and so on. But the Soviet penetration is extensive. I must say that once I heard that there could be as many as up to 10,000 Soviet agents in Poland.

Zdzisław Rurarz (1930–2007)

Zdzisław Rurarz

Zdzisław Rurarz (24 February 1930 - 21 January 2007) - Polish economist, diplomat, university lecturer, Ambassador of the Polish People's Republic in Japan. 1971 - 1972 one of Edward Gierek's economic advisers. 1973 - 1976 Special Adviser to the Secretary General of UNCTAD. 1976 - 1981 head of the Team of Economic Advisors to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. On February 6, 1981, he was nominated the Ambassador of the Polish People's Republic in Japan, also accredited in the Philippines. After the declaration of martial law, on December 23, 1981, he took refuge in the US Embassy in Tokyo, asking for political asylum. Transported with his family to the USA, where he lived until the end of his life. The authorities of the Polish People's Republic sentenced him to death in absentia for "betrayal of the fatherland", loss of citizenship and confiscation of property. The sentence was revoked in May 1990.