Andrzej Wróblewski, 19. 5. 1987, ?


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Date 19. 5. 1987
Length 09:45

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One of the main purposes of the supposed reforms of central planning is to make managers and factories more independent, more autonomous. How successful is this these changes being?

Our economic reform claims that enterprises are independent and they are in legal sense. But this is the freedom which may be compared to freedom of an unemployed chap somewhere that he is free to live under the bridge. If there are so much dependent on monopolist suppliers, if they are dependent on the bank, which is not commercial but government run institution, his managers or its enterprises, liberty becomes illusionary. I think, and this is what many managers I talk to confirm, they would be really independent if they had the currency. They can buy everything. So far it is very, very distant dream.

Why is that? Exactly.

All suppliers, due to traditional structure of our centrally design and planned economy, most of the suppliers are monopolist. We have two or three big steel mills. We have couple of factories which are sole manufacturers of this or that. Since Poland has more assembly potential than supply potential. We usually joke that we attempt to, out of nine screws, assemble 10 bicycles. Such bicycles do not run, and those enterprises, which are dependent on supply, do not run too. So managers must use many tricks to try to make their suppliers mutually dependent on them. No money - rather connections, favours, some hard currency, which may be used by exporters is involved in those tricks. It is a game, but not purely economic game.

Is there any real self-management here in Poland?

Uh, the idea of self-management was welcomed as the way out of our economic crisis. Yet I think more and more people working in self-management, understands that you can have self-management when you have market economy. When the decision to be taken by self-management is clear enough. If we spend that much money this year, we may expect so much next year. But because almost every factory in Poland is dependent, not so much on money, but on some polyethylene here, some screws there, some energy and all those things are limited and regulated by either central planner or general shortage or both. Self-management, willing or not, must accept what it hears from the manager. And he usually says, gentlemen, if we undertake this production, which is less profitable for our factory, but will please Minister B, then we may expect that we will get more railway cars to transport our product or more supply of natural gas, which will be cut off during the winter because of short supply.

May I ask you now more personal question?


What was your own personal reaction to the imposition of martial law in Poland?

To put the long story short. On the one hand, if I may realize myself in the shoes of the government, I thought it was inevitable. Otherwise growing discontent and disappointment to all forms of socialism we have experienced so far would smash the system and might eventually result in much worse consequences. On the other hand, I myself I thought - no, I was too long with the winners and after so many crises Poland is a record breaker in socialist camp in the number of those [inaudible] probably because the point of boiling is lower here. And I thought after all those '56 and '68 and '70 and '76 and '80, I think '81 was the last point, let younger colleagues who have not been so much experienced, uh, continue. I said political journalism is not for me anymore.

Do you think political journalism, real political journalism was possible after martial law in Poland?

I was pleasantly disappointed that after the martial law, we actually have had more liberty than in the 70s, let alone 60s. One couldn't foresee that during, actually when tanks were on the streets and TV speakers were in military uniforms. But I do not resent my decision. I think I read papers with interest. I think younger colleagues are luckier that they can be more critical of... can contribute to the circulation of ideas. Yet I think there is certain moral, moral, political standard which a journalist should observe and I'm faithful to that.

What would you say with the real causes of all the post-war revolts that occurred in Central Europe since?

Hmm. Some people jokingly say that the cycle of revolts in Poland has to do with the cycle of pig raising, not getting into the tails, it has to do with shortage of meat and the meat is not simply a meal in Poland, it is a very political notion of nation, nation's well-being. Shortly, political errors committed by the power, which is not elected, lead to economic consequences. People who are not very much involved in politics feel that prices go up. Their wages do not follow that more and more things are in short supply, that the beef you have on your lunch is getting smaller and smaller. And then at one point or another, it comes to revolt. That was basically the scenario of all major revolts in Poland. And then after the breakthrough, you have the authorities promising and doing something to improve the situation. Then they guarantee that the errors committed by the predecessors will be never repeated because we are wiser. Yet since the system is not basically changed sooner or later, those mistakes are committed again.

Do you think the Communist Party leaderships have learned their lesson? Are they now trying to adopt policies that will stop the revolts occurring in the future?

As a citizen, I wish that was true. Uh, but I don't think it is possible. I think our present government and general Jaruzelski attempt by all possible means to avoid conflict. Yet people who cannot shape the policy, kind of psychologically tend to demand more and more money, the more that the conditions of life are hard here. And the government either has to print more money to satisfy those demands or to say no and to provoke conflicts. And I am afraid that sooner or later in one form or another, the conflict is inevitable.

What did you do when martial law was imposed?

After 23 years working with Polityka which is equivalent of The Economist in Poland, I decided to leave political journalism and now I work with a small publication dealing with management.

Why did you decide to leave Polityka?

I thought - so many crises I have been with the winners is enough. When conflicts in my country, in this system reached such a stage when tanks and the military were necessary to, as it was officially put, defend the independence of the nation, then I thought, let the independence be defended not with my hands, my voice, my pen.

What are Poland’s stage one and stage two economic reforms trying to achieve?

Well, first of all stage two is what should have been but hasn't been made during stage one and besides they are trying to achieve what centrally controlled economy apparently failed to achieve – development, movement, productivity, efficiency. And you may go through economic dictionary in any language, all that which so far, we apparently did not achieve.

Are they trying to replace central planning?

I think the concept of central planning is sustained verbally but most economists and politicians said farewell to that. I think that our and other neighboring nations to the experience so far has proved beyond any doubt that it is ineffective that it even cannot be restrained to very basic directions of development as it was designed to. Inevitably, it becomes commanding, the economy which is, as in education, good when child is very small when but when the economy grows more complex it is apparently too short a method. In other words, you may eventually centrally plan Mongolia or Vietnam, but no European socialist country can be managed that way.

But to what extent is central planning still running the economy in Poland?

I think there is a continuous attempt of central planners to centrally plan. This is their job, and it is a dynamic equilibrium. You have, regardless on all resolutions of party congresses all statements of the Government and so forth, you have still the struggle between, on the one hand, people who believe that centrally planning we can avoid some evils of free economy and, on the other hand, people who say as, sorry not to be modest enough, myself included: how many years and how many crises we may go through, in order to learn, once and forever, that this method is over.

Just briefly have you described some of the specific problems with central planning. Could I just ask you to describe the problem of powerful lobbies interfering, even with what seems like a good central plan?

Well, if you, if you could have good central planning, I would accept that idea and think how to improve it. I think that incorrectness of central planning is included in the very concept. The lobbies I think are organic inevitable part of that because centrally planning you do not count money, you count tons, kilowatts, items and meters or yards and so forth. And then people representing particular branches believe, and they are right, that there is strong as much they contribute in the economy what means as well to the input as to the output. Usually, the input, what means their power is more important for them than the output, what means what they offer to the society.

Could you give an example of one particular lobby? What, what sort of things would ask a central planner to do or try to persuade him to do?

Oh, in Poland is very easy. The most powerful lobby is lobby of heavy industry – metallurgy and coal. And they, in a way, work for themselves because coal mines produce coal which is used in steel mills. Steel mills produce steel which is used to construct new steel mills. And we, the society, feel like standing on the side and waiting - maybe something is not necessary for them, we may use it. I exaggerate a little bit but basically, this is it. And political centre, political power has no strength enough to limit their influence and their, the part they consume of GNP.

They influence the party to influence the central planners.

That's right.

Could you describe that very briefly?

OK. Since that heavy industry is so important for our economy and our social life because you have the concept of working class being the leader of society et cetera, then they must be represented in all elected boards like central committee of the party, like the parliament, which is less influential than the party in our country, and so forth. Those people being in all those bodies influence they shape the policy, and that policy must - because of how they evaluate the situation in the economy - must take decisions which favour them and their participation in investment, allocation of means, salaries, everything.

And does profitability or efficiency play a part in this lobbying?

Increasing but still very low. I think much lower than in your country. I think bills accounts in Poland are, in all countries of our camp, are much more complicated because you have our national currency, you have the currencies of our brothers and neighbours, and you have the currency, which we hate but we love, which means convertible western currency. And no bill is clear. So, if you have industries which consume dollars, pounds, and so forth, and give the output in złotych, they will present always the number of złotych which they give, they will keep silence about dollars which they take.

So they're actually lying about their efficiency?

Consciously or half consciously, they are.

Can I ask you what incentives has a Polish worker for working harder in a Polish factory?

It depends a little bit, there are different systems but basically, he is not always interested in increasing his productivity because he may be confronted with increasing his quotas what means he'll be made to work harder for the same money. And secondly, what keeps him from being too active, from being a forerunner is a chronic short supply. There are workers who work very fast for two hours and then are waiting remaining six hours for a supply.

Could you give some dramatic examples of a supply problem?

Well, I think every example is dramatic because when you look at our technology which is a little bit getting obsolete, but still quite modern standing idle and this is typical in all Polish assembly factories. Perhaps the best example could be car factory here in Warsaw which is very dependent on suppliers from all over the country and I learned that couple of times they had to charter a helicopter to bring steering mechanism from the town of Szczecin

Could you give an example of a supply problem?

Most of Polish assembly factories are standing idle – an hour, two hours, or more of the day because of short supply. And the most dramatic example I can think of is of a car factory here in Poland which manufacture cars sold in Great Britain too, which has suppliers all over the country, and one of them in Szczecin, making steering mechanism is usually so much late that assembly factory here charter a helicopter to transport parts, in order not to keep assembly line idle. Such a flight cost I was told 700,000 złotych, which is roughly a price of one car. But they prefer that than couple of millions lost, if the assembly line is waiting.

One of the main purposes of the supposed to be forms of central planning is to make managers and factories more independent more autonomous. How successful are these changes?

Andrzej Wróblewski (1922–2002)

Andrzej Wróblewski

Andrzej Wróblewski (born July 26, 1922 - died March 20, 2002) - Polish journalist, linguist, publicist, popularizer of knowledge about the Polish language. During World War II he was an underground activist, fought in Home Army units and was seriously wounded. He was mainly associated with "Życie Warszawy" ("Life of Warsaw"), a regular contributor to radio and television, and many cultural and social magazines. In 1992-1997 he cooperated with "Gazeta Wyborcza".