The great transformations of 1989 began with the announcement early in the year that the Polish government would begin Round Table negotiations with the Solidarity trade union movement. It was an unprecedented move. There had been uprisings from below and crackdowns from above. There had been revolutions from within and interventions from outside. But for the first time in the Soviet bloc, a Communist Party and an opposition movement were sitting down together to negotiate their way out of an impasse.
Janusz Reykowski was a key figure in the reform wing of Poland’s Communist Party. A psychologist, he was an early proponent of promoting reconciliation between the Party and Solidarity. In 1989, he had an opportunity to put his views into action as the government’s lead negotiator on political issues in the Round Table. In 1990, I interviewed him about the work that led him to that position (the transcript is below). When I returned to Poland in 2013, I interviewed him again about what had happened in the intervening years.
He began by recalling a point in the Round Table negotiations when it looked as though the entire process would unravel. It was near the end, when both sides were preparing for the final plenary and the announcement of the agreement. But the government-aligned trade union OPZZ decided abruptly to oppose the final compromise. Then the agreement on the order of speakers for the final announcement broke down. Even as the journalists gathered to hear these speeches, and the entire country was watching on television, the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The government was threatening to blame the deadlock on Solidarity and walk away from the agreement. At this point, out of frustration and anger, Reykowski began to plan his resignation.
But then the negotiators tried one last time. Vice-premier Ireneusz Sekula said, “I want to tell a joke.”
“I thought he was crazy,” Reykowski remembers. “You can imagine the situation! He’s going to tell a joke? This was the joke. Goethe was once walking on a narrow path in the mountains. All of the sudden, he met his mortal enemy on the road. His enemy said, ‘I never give way to fools.’ And Goethe said, ‘But I always give way to fools.’ And he turned around and left.” When Sekula told this joke, there was silence. Then someone said, “Maybe this is good advice for you, Solidarity members.”
According to Reykowski, his Solidarity counterpart historian Bronislaw Geremek picked up on the suggestion. Reykowski remembers him saying, “We will make an announcement opposing what OPZZ did. But in the interest of this agreement and in the interest of Poland, we agree not to force our demands.”
It only took a few minutes to formulate this announcement, and the crisis ended.
“It could have easily gone the other way,” Reykowski told me. “The whole thing lasted two or three hours, and people were even thinking that there might be Martial Law again. But a number of people acted so that we could find another solution.”
As part of the agreement, Poland held semi-free elections on June 4, 1989 in which 100 percent of the Senate seats and one-third of the Sejm seats were up for competitive election. The Solidarity-affiliated candidates won all but one of the available seats.
“I was thinking that it was quite likely that Solidarity might have a big success,” Reykowski told me. “Also, I heard about the Party’s good relations with bishops. What really happened, if you remember, is that the Church built a big infrastructure for Solidarity all over Poland. Solidarity didn’t in fact have such a strong political infrastructure outside the big cities, but it was compensated by the network of parishes that was quite effective.”
He admits that, given his political affiliation, he should have been disappointed by the results. “But from the historical perspective, the electoral outcome was the best solution,” he concluded.
The election was a turning point. But, as Reykowski pointed out, it was really what didn’t happen a few days later that made all the difference.
“On June 6 or 7, 1989, after the election in Poland, there was a big wave of demands faxed to the Central Committee demanding that the June 4 election be annulled,” he remembered. “There was a big pressure. I had a feeling that we were in a very dangerous situation. In the next few days, it developed in such a way that the election was finally approved – and that was the point of no return. I am bringing this up because this was a moment when there might have been a basic political change and nothing happened. The critical point was the election on June 4, 1989, and in the following days this election was recognized and there were no major forces to challenge it. It was also the signal for all others in the region. It was a signal that the Soviet Union didn’t do anything and that nothing inside the country happened either.”
We talked about the subsequent political and economic reforms, the decline of the post-Communist party and the rise of Krytyka Polityczna, his role in creating a new university with 13,000 students, and the future of liberalism in Poland.
Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
It was not as distinctive for me as for most people in the West, because at that time, the changes in Poland were very advanced. It looked rather like the next step in the process of this major change rather than something decisive. What was decisive had happened already in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary, as well as in the GDR. So, the Berlin Wall was just the final step of this process. I don’t remember this event as the very distinct from the whole process.
What for you was the most decisive event for Poland but also for the region as a whole?
I will be anecdotal, if that’s okay with you. On June 6 or 7, 1989, after the election in Poland, there was a big wave of demands faxed to the Central Committee demanding that the June 4 election be annulled. There was a big pressure. I had a feeling that we were in a very dangerous situation. In the next few days, it developed in such a way that the election was finally approved – and that was the point of no return.
I am bringing this up because this was a moment when there might have been a basic political change and nothing happened. The critical point was the election on June 4, 1989, and in the following days this election was recognized and there were no major forces to challenge it. It was also the signal for all others in the region. It was a signal that the Soviet Union didn’t do anything and that nothing inside the country happened either. I would treat this as the important turning point in the process.
Where did the faxes come from?
During the spring, one or twice I asked for a study of opinions of members of the Party. The picture was approximately the following. There were some reform-oriented people in the upper tier. A majority of ordinary members wanted reform. But there was very strong opposition to reform in the middle level of the Party apparatus. The main source of these telefaxes was this level of the Party apparatus from all over the country.
Was there a similar point during the Round Table when you felt that something dangerous might happen as well?
Oh yes. During these negotiations, there were a number of crucial situations, but they were not very critical. But there was a moment that I remember that scared me very much. This was at the very end of the negotiations. Three days before the final plenary of the Round Table, there was supposed to be a symbolic meeting at the end – just as there had been a symbolic meeting at the beginning — when 54 people would sit around this round table and symbolically announce the acceptance of the agreement.
Three days before this event, the chairman of the OPZZ made an announcement. OPZZ was the big union related to the central apparatus of the Party. Officially it had seven million members, but politically it was very strong. Three days before the final meeting, the chairman Alfred Miodowicz announced that he wouldn’t sign this document because it contained an agreement that there would be only 80 percent compensation for inflation — the indexation issue. Solidarity had already agreed to this number. So, this was a maneuver to show that OPZZ was defending the basic interests of the working class and Solidarity had sold out this interest.
Obviously Solidarity became furious at this. They originally thought that we negotiators from the Party had made a deal with OPZZ. First we had to explain that we had nothing to do with this — it was the initiative of OPZZ. Then Solidarity said that it didn’t agree that Miodowicz would be third speaker at this final meeting – the first speaker was Czeslaw Kiszczak from the Party, the second was Lech Walesa from Solidarity, and the third was supposed to Miodlowicz. Since OPZZ was undermining the negotiations, Solidarity didn’t agree with this.
Finally, it came to the point where everyone was sitting at this table for this final symbolic meeting. There were 200 foreign journalists. There was no other program on TV except for the transmission from this event. First there was the speech by Kisczcak. Then there was the speech by Walesa. The chairman announced a break. I didn’t know why he announced the break. It wasn’t planned. He just said, “Fifteen minutes break.”
Twenty minutes passed. Half an hour. Nothing happened. I was trying to find out what was happening. I learned that Miodowicz wrote a note to Kiszczak that if he wasn’t going to be the third speaker, he and his delegation would leave the meeting. In this situation, they decided to take a break to find a solution.
I went to the back rooms where the leadership was sitting and found that they were in negotiations, with Solidarity in one corner and OPZZ in the other corner, discussing what to do. I tried to get involved by talking to all sides. Solidarity said that they wouldn’t agree to allow Miodowicz to speak and Miodowicz said he was leaving.
Nobody at the Round Table knew what was going on. The TV programs didn’t know what to do, so they started to play music. No one in Poland knew what was happening! After about 90 minutes, I went into the room where there the governmental Party delegation was sitting. There were a few people there. It was quite a dark room. And I noticed that General Kiszczak was speaking over the phone with General Jaruzelski. I listened to what he was saying.
The conversation went something like this. Kiszczak repeated Jaruzelski’s words and then said, “Yes, General.” I was trying to listen to what he was saying. It was a kind of announcement like this: Due to the stubbornness of Solidarity, we cannot continue the meeting, and we will look for a solution in the near future.
My first feeling when I was listening to this was that it was really a plot and that I was naïve enough to be involved in such a plot to make Solidarity compromised in the eyes of the people. I was also thinking that if they made this announcement, there would be an immediate conflict. When Kiszczak finished this conversation, I said that I wanted to speak to General Jaruzelski. I was thinking that when I would talk to Jaruzelski, he would be very offended and he would attack me. But I came to the conclusion that I didn’t care. I would resign the next day. I talked to General Jaruzelski and said that this was a very dangerous moment with tremendous consequences.
Instead of being angry, he expressed helplessness. He said, “We must not get into a conflict with Miodowicz because he has great support in the Central Committee. If we act against him, in a few days, we will likely be kicked out. So I really don’t know what to do.”
I said, “At least let us change the wording of the announcement.”
“Okay,” he said, “Try to prepare a new version.”
I sat down with some others to prepare a new version of the announcement. When we prepared the announcement, I called Jaruzelski and told him. He accepted it and when I was about to finish it up, Stanislaw Ciosek [another Politburo member] came and said, “Let me speak with the General.” So, he did the same thing I did.
Ciosek said, “Let us try to speak one more time to Walesa.”
I said, “Okay, go ahead try to speak with him.” I knew Walesa didn’t want to speak.
But Walesa sent a group to talk. And we sat down again — 10 of us, five on each side — and we started to talk. We said, “We should not destroy all of this. You should find another way.” But they couldn’t agree.
Then Vice-premier Ireneusz Sekula said, “I want to tell a joke.”
I thought he was crazy. You can imagine the situation! He’s going to tell a joke?
This was the joke. Goethe was once walking on a narrow path in the mountains. All of the sudden, he met his mortal enemy on the road. His enemy said, “I never give way to fools.”
And Goethe said, “But I always give way to fools.” And he turned around and left.
When Sekula told this joke, there was silence. Then someone said, “Maybe this is good advice for you, Solidarity members.” Geremek picked up on this. He said, “We will make an announcement opposing what OPZZ did. But in the interest of this agreement and in the interest of Poland, we agree not to force our demands.”
After a few minutes, this announcement was formulated, and the crisis ended.
It could have easily gone the other way. The whole thing lasted two or three hours, and people were even thinking that there might be Martial Law again. But a number of people acted so that we could find another solution.
I was told by everyone that the results of the June 4 elections were a surprise – except for one person who did polling and predicted that Solidarity would win all the seats it was contesting. What did you think would happen in the elections?
We had good reason to predict that there would be at least 30 percent support for the candidates of the government, maybe even more in some places. When there was a public announcement that there would be free elections to the Senate, an emeritus professor of history who had a long career in the central apparatus of Party came to me and said that he’d prepared a document showing that free elections would mean that the Party would be completely defeated. He had good reason to predict this. Strategists in this election were expecting that Solidarity would get support from small towns and villages where the economic situation had deteriorated. Other factors also supported his conclusion. I sent this document to General Jaruzelski.
In the meantime, I also asked Prof. Stanislaw Gebethner to prepare a project of proportional representation. General Jaruzelski invited six or seven people who were involved in the preparation of the election. My main task was to present the main problems with the elections and suggest a solution. During the discussion, my proposal for proportional representation was rejected. One argument was that the situation was not so bad. The second argument was that the rules for this proportional representation were too complicated for the Party apparatus. It had never had experience with this before, so it would be mixed up. The third argument was that Solidarity didn’t have support as an organization outside of the big towns. As to the argument that Solidarity would be helped by Church, we were told that the Church wouldn’t be involved in the election. The government had good relations with the bishops, and though the low-ranking priests would help Solidarity, they wouldn’t have major influence.
At that time, in other words, there was a consensus that the Party had a good chance to get good results in the elections. I was uncertain. I remember meeting General Jaruzelski a week before when he told me about something he’d read about the elections that had worried him. He didn’t know what to think. I don’t remember what I answered at that time.
When you ask me about this, in other words, I was uncertain. I was thinking that it was quite likely that Solidarity might have a big success. Also, I heard about the Party’s good relations with bishops. What really happened, if you remember, is that the Church built a big infrastructure for Solidarity all over Poland. Solidarity didn’t in fact have such a strong political infrastructure outside the big cities, but it was compensated by the network of parishes that was quite effective.
For someone involved in the game, they should be happy to win the game. But from the historical perspective, the electoral outcome was the best solution.
When we talked in 1990, you said that it would be quite dangerous if one side had too much power.
Yes, I had this feeling that it could destabilize the system. There were two major dangers I thought about at the time. One danger was the destabilization of perestroika. What could happen to Gorbachev was what happened to Khrushchev a few decades earlier. All of a sudden in such a situation, what happens inside the Soviet Union not only plays an important role but also the attitudes and behaviors of Party leaders in other countries in the region. A destabilization of Poland might have increased pressure to eliminate Gorbachev. In fact, ten years later, we learned that the State Department was worried about the same thing. There was a conference in 1999, on the tenth anniversary of the changes, and the American ambassador at that time told us how anxious the State Department was about what would happen next – whether Gorbachev was safe or not safe. In fact, two years later there was the coup attempt in Moscow. It could have happened any time.
Also uncertain was what would happen inside Poland. There were strong forces against the changes. I was afraid that they might have been mobilized. Now, after two decades, I can say that there was another factor. I’m not sure that this path of Polish change based on neo-liberal economic assumptions was the best thing for the country. Something more moderate, with greater respect for social issues, might have been a better road than the one chose by Balcerowicz and others.
At the time we talked in 1990, you thought there wasn’t much choice because the Party had looked into very similar economic reforms in 1988. All the pressure on the outside was toward that kind of economic reform. Your feeling at the time was that there would have to be some kind of rapid economic change and Poland would have to pay some kind of price.
There were some articles in the last few years discussing the plan that was introduced and implemented by Balcerowicz and suggesting that there were other ways. Not being an economist, I can’t evaluate whether this was wisdom based on hindsight or there were really other possibilities. My feeling at that time was that if there had been more equilibrium there would have been a higher probability that social policy would be less extreme. But I’m not sure if I am right.
I talked with Joze Mencinger about the more gradual approach in Slovenia. But people point out that there are big differences between Slovenia and Poland. Slovenia is much smaller. It was more connected to West European markets in the late 1980s.
There is another point. Poland became to a major extent the producer of products associated with some larger firms in the West that didn’t require a high level of originality or that didn’t facilitate the development of modern technology. In other words, the Polish economy became second-rate. Well, it was already second rate, but this kind of change didn’t support the transformation of this position.
The irony of the transformation was that Poland had to rely more on traditional exports like coal when the reforms were supposed to enable Poland to export more advanced products.
Also, now we are very much dependent on the German market. The economic situation in Germany has a substantial influence on our situation. Many Polish factories provide parts. There is some more advanced technology but related to production done in other places, or all the parts come from outside only to be assembled here in Poland. Many factories here are just for assembly.
I’m surprised to come back to Poland and hear all sorts of conspiracy theories even today about the Round Table. You probably remember the theories about Magdalenka. I thought those conspiracy theories ended. But apparently there are still many Poles who still believe that the Round Table negotiations were a plot by some part of Solidarity and some part of the Party.
A colleague of mine is doing research on perceptions of nationality, with a special focus on the perception of Jews. He’s interested in this perception of Jews as having special power to control the economy and politics – in other words, this kind of conspiracy theory. One of his findings was that this conspiracy theory about Jews is changing. It becomes weaker in normal situations, but it increases in a period of political tensions and also during election times. One can formulate more generally that this kind of conspiracy theory, and not just about Jews, is more likely to be more popular in a crisis situation. We now have this great unemployment among youth. There is a high level of unemployment in general, and the economic situation in general is not so good. This causes a high level of political conflict in Poland. These factors facilitate thinking in terms of secret plots that involve a group of responsible people, be it Jews, be it members of the Round Table, whatever. As a matter of fact, conspiracy theories about 9/11 have also been quite popular. Quite a few such theories resurface every now and then.
When I was recently in Croatia, the waiter at a restaurant asked me if I could verify what he had heard from a French general, that all the Jews in the World Trade Center had been notified beforehand by fax from the Israeli embassy and had left the building. I told him that wasn’t true.
Yes, that theory was popular here as well.
One person I interviewed, Maciej Gdula, told me his theory of why the Round Table emerged as a successful strategy. He believed that one part of Solidarity and one part of the Party faced so much pressure from within their organizations that working together was a preferable strategy.
It is not false. But I don’t think it was a major factor. It was true that there were radicals on both sides. And it was true that I had a number of conversations with Bronislaw Geremek, who was the co-chair with me of the political subgroup of the Round Table. In our conversations when were solving problems related to negotiations, we could come to agreement on this basis. We said that we must take into consideration the radicals on both sides, that we must not antagonize them and come up with a solution. It makes sense. But it is not a major explanation.
There were other factors: economic, political.
In fact, both sides learned that they were helpless. The government understood it couldn’t make major economic reform by itself unless we used force on a much larger scale than was used during Martial Law. It also learned that it couldn’t win that way against the political opposition. For 30 years or so, the leadership was fighting with the opposition and the opposition was coming back again and again. It was obvious that the system couldn’t work this way.
Solidarity also learned that its original expectation that it could impose solutions, as it was thinking in 1981, couldn’t work because it wasn’t strong enough. Even worse, there were some indications that Solidarity had become weaker over the decade. There was good reason to find an agreement. Both sides were stalemated – as in a chess game.
When we talked 23 years ago, you said that a new younger Left would emerge. So you anticipated the emergence of Krytyka Polityczna. What do you think about its popularity and, on the other side, its failure to have political significance?
I have a very high opinion of Krytyka Polityczna as a place for intellectual activity. Slawomir Sierakowski, the chief of this group, is an extremely intelligent person. Originally he seemed to me both naïve and politically immature. But now when I read his texts, he represents a high intellectual level that contributes the Left position to public discourse.
But they haven’t developed anything that has political consequence right now. Maybe they are not at present strong enough. Or put another way, to be politically significant one has to find support in a large part of society, particularly social groups or social classes that resonate with your ideas. Krytyka is more at the elite abstract level. They don’t have much contact with the basic interests of larger social groups.
They would like to, but they don’t.
If we take an issue that is very important for new Left, like equal rights for gays or other things of this kind, they don’t move masses. They move a relatively narrow part of the society. These are problems for the elite. You cannot build major political force focusing on this kind of issue.
Let’s turn to the other Left force, the Social Democratic Party. It has been in power. And in some cases it has been even more neo-liberal than the opposition was. Now it’s not as politically significant as it was before. What do you think the future development of this party will be?
I’m not sure if we can use the word development. It’s more involution than evolution. On one side, it has some organizational competence. This is a function of its relative experience, and it some ability to act politically. But I don’t think that it has any clear ideological concept, any clear ideological goal that is able to and is interested in achieving — except playing some role in the power system. It has become more a party that has competence in the technology of governance than a party dedicated to specific ideological or political goals. It is still the major political force on the Left side. But I am not very optimistic that it will play an important role in some social and political changes in Poland.
I understand that you set up a new school?
Yes, this was in 1996 — 17 years ago. There were three of us who did it. It was based on the faculty of the institute of psychology at the Polish Academy of Science. In English we call it the Warsaw School of Social Psychology but it will soon have a different name. It has grown very fast. In the last few years it has had 13,000 students. It’s quite a large school with several branches in other cities: Sopot, Poznan, Katowice, Wroclaw. It has various faculties in addition to psychology: law, philology, political science, sociology. Now it faces some difficulties because of the fast decline in demography. Every year, fewer people are ready to study and want to pursue higher education.
I retired one year ago from the school, so I’m now involved only at the Polish Academy of Science. But I was very pleased with this school because it became one of the major educational institutions in Poland. It has become a respected and influential institution. We were able to attract faculty of high quality. So, I regard this as a success.
How would you distinguish it from its competitors?
Originally, when we started the school, we wanted to stress two things. First there was the high quality of the faculty that we hired. We were able to gather some of the leading people in these fields, although now after 15 years it doesn’t look as good as it did in the beginning. Also, we had certain ideas about relations with students. We wanted to make sure that the students had more rights than they did in other universities. In many universities in Poland, the faculty didn’t care much about students. We wanted to make it a principle that the faculty’s obligation to students was a primary obligation. At least that was the ideology. Not in every area of our activities were we successful. But in general, we were successful with this kind of ideology.
What do you think of the future of liberalism? Liberalism as an ideology was quite dominant after 1989 as a fusion of democratic politics and market economics. These days, it’s difficult to find people who identify themselves as liberal, as people have gone to the Right or further to the Left. There is a shrinkage in liberal ideology and liberal constituencies. Is that the case also here in Poland?
I assume you are using the term liberal in the American sense.
I mean it more in the European sense – a fusion of classic market principles with democratic politics. In other words, a combination of John Stuart Mills and Friedrich Hayek.
This is a question that occupies me quite intensely. I just wrote several papers about this topic and also gave a presentation on it. When one is involved in a topic, it’s difficult to condense this for a short conversation. But let me say this about liberalism in terms of a liberal economy based primarily on the ideology of freedom as a basic precondition of human development, as in Hayek for example or in Balcerowicz here in Poland. My main point is that economic freedom contributed for specific reasons to very effective economic development in the region of capitalism in England in the 17th century, for example. But at same time, it has some characteristics that are self-destructive. In other words, it can engender processes that, instead of facilitating economic development, may suppress some part of economic development or destroy it. The important question is whether these self-destructive elements in the free market economy based on economic freedom can be managed. It’s not easy to answer how this can be done. And one can easily show that the opposite recommendation – governmental control over the economy — has a lot of fatal weaknesses as well. So the question is whether there are other possible ways of thinking. From the point of view of psychology, there are some possibilities of thinking in different ways, but this is still at the elemental level.
The success of the capitalistic economy originally related not to freedom by itself but the strong interface between productive activity and access to goods. In the pre-capitalist economy, access to goods depended on physical force, on the ability to suppress people and extract products from them. This changed under capitalism. Capitalism made an interface in which the more you contribute, the more you get.
But it turns out that in a free market this interface between productivity and access to goods or to wealth has become weaker. For example, as Joseph Stieglitz says, in the American economy 40 percent of profit comes from financial activity that doesn’t increase production. He describes this as a pathology. There are other pathologies of this kind in which access to wealth and goods is not related to productivity.
Moreover, the more complex the product, the less effective the external control on the quality of production. In other words, a client can say whether the food is good or the dress is nice, but a client cannot evaluate correctly the quality of drugs, the safety of airlines, and many other things. Technology is becoming increasingly complex, and external control by a client or anybody else has become much less effective. Effective economy depends on effective intrinsic motivation. People have pride in the good quality of the product they produce. Or they are task-oriented. Such motivations are called intrinsic motivations. The pure capitalist economy suppressed this kind of motivation. Now there is a challenge to find a kind of organization of society that bases human activity not only on external rewards but on internal rewards. How to do this is an open question. But at least in psychology there is knowledge of mechanisms on which this motivation depends. Potentially, it is possible to develop recommendations based on this knowledge.
The future depends on whether society finds another way of supporting productive economies. Liberalism in the Hayek sense or the Balcerowicz sense is not the future. Another kind of liberalism may be the model, but not this one.
There is some thinking in the United States on economic alternatives based on intrinsic motivation. 3M, for instance, was reorganized around Green principles – but the workers participated in the process of transforming the production. Everyone was responsible for making the production more environmentally sustainable. The workers didn’t get more money for this, but they did feel part of the process. Other examples tend to be in smaller firms, though.
Here’s an analogy that provides an approximation. Two hundred and fifty years ago, electricity was an effect of pure curiosity. With electrical current you could move frog legs. For some decades it was a very marginal phenomenon. And now we cannot live without electricity.
Or here’s another example: Locke writing about democracy. It was 100 years before democracy became a little bit feasible with the American constitution. Another 200 years was needed for a more mature democracy to become possible with the recognition of the rights of women and Blacks and so on. Scientists have ideas in their minds and people who want to make changes push for something in practice, but they don’t tell us what happens next. When you ask Balcerowicz how the economy should develop, he had simple advice: more freedom. In all social realms — education, theater, culture — more freedom: the free market is the solution. This is a very common belief among many parts of the elite of the world.
But because of the economic crisis, people like Stieglitz or Paul Krugman or other Nobel Prize winners are trying to think another way. If this type of critical thinking develops, then people might ask other questions that enable us to go beyond the opposition between more economic freedom and more state control. We can’t go very far within this opposition. And we have to go beyond this opposition.
When you think back to how you looked at the world in 1989-90, has that changed in any significant way based on your experiences of the last 23 years?
Maybe this is your most difficult question. There is a tendency of the human mind to see the past in the light of the present and then to think: I have always thought like this, even if in reality I now think completely differently. We look at the old ideas and believe that they are the same as our current thought but only a less developed form. So, it’s hard to give a sincere answer.
I think that I changed. Many things look differently now than 20 years ago. But it would not be easy to pinpoint the specific dimension of this change. For example, on this topic we just discussed: I had reservations about these ideas of the free market as a general solution for everything. But they were weak doubts and they were unsubstantiated. Now I am much more convinced that we should look at this process in different terms. But maybe there are some other things I changed.
When you look back at 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed since then, how would you rate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being most disappointed and 10 most satisfied?
As a psychologist, I often ask people this kind of question, and now I must answer this question! More than 5 and less than 10. Let’s put it between 7 and 8.
Same period of time, same scale: your own personal life?
When you look at the near future, the next two or three years, how would you evaluate the prospects for Poland, with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 most optimistic?
Poland is in a very politically dangerous situation. I am not able to predict whether the black cloud on the horizon brings a major storm or not. You know of Kaczynski and PiS? While I think that there are some hopes for economic improvement, at least from what I read there is also a danger of political regression. But I’m not sure how great this danger is. I have no instrument with which to make predictions of future political developments. Maybe in 30 years it will improve. But in 3 years it is more uncertain.
Warsaw, August 16, 2013
Janusz Reykowski is a well-respected psychologist. Beginning in 1989, he served in the PZPR Politburo and was the party/ government’s chief negotiator at the round table on political reform.
Why did you get involved in politics?
To make a long story short, in 1981 when I came back from the United States, I found that quite a complicated situation had developed in the social realm. I began some research work in psychological political processes in Poland and in the second half of the year I organized a group of scientists to analyze the situation and prepare a document that looked at the problems and threats. On the basis of this, I prepared a rather large article which was published in November 1981 in Polityka in which I warned of impending confrontation and proposed some remedies. Well, of course, no one paid any attention to it! In fact, a month later, the confrontation happened and Martial Law was declared.
Since that time, I was trying several times to apply psychological concepts and theories to analyze social and political conflict in Poland. For example, in 1982, again this group of colleagues prepared a document arguing against the abolition of Solidarity, proposing a completely different course of policy for Poland. This document was given to the authorities and it was published without my consent in Western press but not in Poland. But Solidarity was abolished in 1982 despite our ideas that it was not a good plan for Poland. Later on, I published a number of things on the Polish conflict, from a psychological perspective. I was over sometimes at General Jaruzelski’s to give critical evaluation of some policy measures and propose alternative courses. In general, I was advocating political reform and reconciliation between opposition and governing forces. So, this is my record in the 1980s.
In late 1988, when the leadership decided to make a radical change in policy and to implement the policy of negotiation, they were looking for people who could support such a policy. This is how I got to the high policy level: when there was a major restructuring of the leadership. Now, as far as my participation in the Round Table is concerned–and this should not be quoted–there were three reasons. They wanted a professor who could discuss with a professor. There was Geremek on the other side, they thought that I should be on this side. Another reason: very experienced politicians were uncertain about the political costs of negotiating with the opposition forces. So they felt that perhaps it would be best not to be directly involved–I was therefore a convenient person. I was not an experienced politician in the sense of a career in politics. It was the philosophy that was adequate. So, it is my suspicion that such people were afraid of being accused by some elements in the Party and it would negatively influence their career. And the fact that I was a psychologist had something to do with it.
I was asked and immediately I agreed to take this position. And I publicly said: in my opinion, Poland is now in a very dangerous period. In November 1988 I prepared an article that I was going to publish but I never did. But I had a number of thoughts on the issue, describing processes in Poland that to my view were implying very serious economic and political problems. So I simply saw that everybody called upon to use their competence to do something should respond immediately. So I felt that it is a kind of necessity to do something if you think that you can do it, if the opportunity arises.
But this was an unpopular position, yes?
Yes it was. In 1986, well, look at this data. [He showed me data prepared at the Polish Academy of Science. In 1984, 18 percent of those polled supported radical change in the system; by 1986 only 10 percent supported such a change. The number of people supporting reform of the system grew slightly over the same period from 46 to 48 percent. In 1987, 4 percent of those polled said that the system provided only advantages; that dropped by 1989 to .6 percent. 42.6 percent said in 1987 that the system provided more advantages than disadvantages; by 1989 this figure had dropped to 13 percent–Reykowski quoted these figures to prove that in fact, support for the system had declined rather rapidly in the late 1980s.] So, of course this was a sort of problem for a person to take such an unpopular job. But I believed that I could do something positive. And the Round Table negotiations were proof that something positive could be done.
Were you happy with the results of the Round Table?
Well, that depends on how you define results. Especially on the time dimension. You must be more specific about the time.
The final outcome in April 1989.
I felt that it was good for Poland. And it gives a good construct for the development of democratic institutions in Poland. I don’t think that democracy appears by fiat, by the decision of a group that comes together and says now, we are democratic. Democracy is in fact a network of institutions working according to certain rules. Training of politicians, getting political experience, well-developed process of communications with parties, open definition of goals, ability of controlling what the parties are doing: many things are necessary for democracy to work. Well-functioning democratic institutions have a long, long history behind them. So, I felt that it was necessary for several years to build such democratic institutions. I thought that the agreement opened the door to such constructions. In this way, I was pleased.
But there were aspects with which you weren’t so pleased?
Not in April. I was in charge on the Central Committee of a group that was supposed to prepare political predictions, scenarios of political development. We quite early came to the conclusion that to fulfill the plan of development of political institutions, one condition had to be made: namely, relative equilibrium between old forces and new forces. And, if any of these forces became dominant, it would destroy or undermine the democratic process. So, I said publically in Tribuna Ludu that I do not advocate the victory of the Communist Party–of course it was ridiculous to say such a thing, but I said it. But it would not be good for Poland if the Party would win overwhelmingly in the elections because it would be a threat to the democratic process. Of course this was funny because the situation was the opposite. My intention was to say that any overwhelming victory for any force may prove dangerous to the democratic process. I was disappointed by the results of the election because I felt that it produced an imbalance in this political process. And what happened next–this balance was even more deeply destroyed by processes in the whole Eastern bloc. These processes created an emptiness on the political scene. This development I regarded as dangerous and what is happening now in Poland I regard as proof of my view.
Was the split in the Polish Communist party influenced by splits in Communist parties in other Eastern Europe?
No, it was not an imitation of processes in other countries. It had internal dynamics. From the data that I have from surveys within the Party, the picture was approximately like this: approximately 20 percent of the membership were people with clearly conservative orientation of wanting to preserve the classical form of government and state: dominance of the party, central planning, leading role of the party, forbidding opposition–formulas characteristic of monocentric, autocratic, even totalitarian power. But more than 50 percent supported change and reform. In other words, in the Fall, there was a quite substantial group for and also against the changes. But as a result of the changes, the coalition broke: conservative forces lost their self-assurance, their capability for independent autonomous action.
Moreover, there was a dominant tendency to avoid the split, to keep unity and this produced a paradox. Namely, most of the people wanted unity; at the same time, those who wanted unity were those who wanted change as well as those who wanted to return to the previous forms. Some of us thought that the best situation would be to split the Party between the conservative and reform-minded groups, between minority and majority. But, the minority didn’t want to be split off; they didn’t feel that they could survive as an independent force. So, in spite of the growing pressure–the change of state in a democratic direction–they were ready to compromise though they didn’t agree, because they didn’t want to be isolated. But because they didn’t want to be isolated, there were others who thought that if the conservatives stay, we must leave. So instead of dividing the party between conservatives and reformists, there was the threat of dividing the party between more and less reform-oriented groups.
In addition to that there was an intervention of Walesa into this process. He met some weeks before the Party Congress with Fiszbach and openly supported Fiszbach against other candidates. He behaved exactly in the way the Communist party behaved toward the PSL in 1947-48. In other words, what the Communist party was trying to do was build within an opposition group their own support group. Even more, Fiszbach not only accepted this role of being a Trojan horse but in public statement on TV and newspapers, he paid tribute to Walesa as a master. So it led to his being compromised. He was looked upon as a puppet. Before, he was a politician who had a good record, who could talk to Solidarity, had credibility with Solidarity. But when he started to act like someone who didn’t have his own program, someone manipulated, it undermined his political position. There were two major failures in this process. One, this attempt to strip away the conservatives was a failure; the conservatives simply didn’t want to be rejected. And the other failure was Fiszbach’s obligations to Walesa.
What is the history of the Party’s interest in market reform?
As far as the leadership is concerned, I think that the leadership wanted to introduce market reform. But first, it was not prepared to introduce market reform in a way that would involve all the social costs that it produces. I think that left parties are not suited for reforms that lead to a major decline in social policy. The decline in social policy might come as a result of not making reform but that’s another thing. But to do it consciously, to lead to a situation of large-scale social consequences, left parties are poorly suited to this kind of task. Theoretically, then, the Party could have introduced such reforms if they had required fewer costs.
Secondly, there was a natural resistance within the establishment to market reform. There were a number of lobbies that were against. For example, there were some directors of industry who were interested in preserving their dominance. The third factor was the limited legitimacy of the system. Limited approval for the leadership meant that if you tried to introduce an unpopular measure, it would create popular discontent, mass resistance. Not political, but direct resistance: strikes, manifestations, mutiny. In 1988, for example, in June 1988, there was the first public meeting organized by the Sociological Society. There was discussion between Geremek, Bugaj, myself and Staniszkis. This was the first public presentation for Geremek. My argument was that without this public support for government the implementation of reform would be improbable. Therefore there should be some form of reconciliation with the opposition. The resistance to reform was also supported by the Russians. The Russians supported forces blocking reform. This was not the case in second of the 1980s.
My feeling is that the policy developed by Rakowski had the same direction as Balcerowicz. Balcerowicz only did it more radically and with much greater social support. As a private observer, I don’t see radical differences between the plans of Balcerowicz and Rakowski. I see different conditions, domestic and international. For instance, Rakowski did not have support of international monetary institutions, no public support, was not decisive. These differences notwithstanding, the philosophy of the change was not qualitatively different.
But Balcerowicz is losing support?
This is inevitable. Everybody who starts plans of this kind must be prepared to pay political prices. And he can only hope that the positive effects of his plan come before he loses all political credibility. And this is just a race between two processes. Other reformers have paid the price in the past: Eckhardt in Germany, Grabski in Poland. I don’t know whether the Balcerowicz plan can solve the major problem of starting the economy. At this time, it has shown that it can inhibit inflation, not to a very high extent but to some extent. But whether it will be able to initiate growth, I don’t know. And how this growth will be felt by different strata of society, I also don’t know.
Two criticisms of Balcerowicz are 1) that there are not sufficient mechanisms within the plan to take care of the most vulnerable sections of population and 2) the only institutions with capital are former nomenklatura and foreign companies and they will profit by the privatization. What do you think of these criticisms?
These are criticisms from the left. They take into consideration social effects of the reform from a socialist orientation. But there is also criticism of the Balcerowicz plan from the right. Again, I see this as natural. It is the task of Balcerowicz to take into consideration such social effects. It is the task for parties with a left philosophy to have an alternative plan and fight for this plan when the opportunity arises. I think that this operation has to be done without analgesic, without anesthesia. There is no anesthesia for operations on living society. We have anesthesia for individuals, but not for society. And this operation has to be done. But once it is done there will be possibilities to deal with the next stage. It might be that it will be possible to develop a socialistic approach in the next stage of the plan that will provide necessary protection for the unemployed, that will fight against alienation in the factory, and will introduce perhaps concepts of self-management. But I tend to see this as the second step. That it should be the battleground at the moment when the economy begins to produce.
True, there is a right-wing criticism–foreign capital will pervert Polish purity. But left and right seem to agree in one respect: the Balcerowicz plan is not simply a corrective operation, but will in fact establish mechanisms that will prove unfortunately quite durable. The example is privatization–once there is the concentration of shares it will be impossible to de-centralize that control in the future. What do you feel about this?
I am reluctant to discuss this issue for lack of competence. From my superficial knowledge, I have the feeling that privatization is not a very fast process. It can’t happen in months; it takes years. I don’t think there is an immediate threat of all of these consequences. There is also within dominant political forces in Poland great resistance to this course of privatization. Two days ago I spoke with the chairman of the parliamentary commission that evaluates the privatization plans, and he complained to me–and I didn’t sympathize with him very much–about the great resistance within the OKP (Solidarity parliamentary caucus) toward the privatization advocated by the government. So I think that these forces are operating around this issue. So there will be some time for full evaluation about how it should be done. On the philosophical ground, I must say that I don’t think that in the long run, the capitalist system has a future. My private view is that it has an inherent weakness that sooner or later will be manifest.
Instead of left or right, what about characterizing the new political division as modernists vs. anti-modernists?
In intelligence tests for children there is always a section for classification of objects and you can show that in any given assembly, objects can be classified according to a number of categories. Human objects can be fit into an infinite number of categories. You can divide such an assembly of people like members of parliament according to modernization vs. anti-modernization, totalitarian vs. democratic orientation, peasant vs. urban. I wouldn’t argue with this particular classification. Now, the problem is which classification is the most important, most feasible and this depends on the dominant task that people are trying to solve.
The political task here seems no less than predicting the political future of Poland, yes?
If this is the criteria, than we should take into consideration that in this period of uncertainty, there is good grounds for the development of ethnocentric, chauvinistic, radical attitudes. Therefore, one of the important dimensions for next month’s elections is the direction of those who have a democratic orientation and the extremists, mainly right-wing extremists. I think that there are good chances that in Poland, the right-wing extremists may grow and this might be a major danger for this country. Therefore, the separation between those who facilitate and those who oppose this tendency will be one of the more important dimensions in predicting Poland’s political future.
I understand that the right-wing KPN (Confederation for an Independent Poland) occupied and then received offices in this building (the Palace of Culture and Science, Stalin’s gift to Warsaw).
This is by itself a very minor thing but very symbolic.
The argument of right-wing extremism is the argument Adam Michnik uses to keep Solidarity unified. Or is this simply a facade for keeping unity at any price?
I believe in the sincerity of the Michnik argument. I’m not sure whether this is a good political strategy or gives good political consequences. This is another issue. I am also concerned about the protection of right-wing monopoly by creating Solidarity monopoly. If I had to choose, of course I would choose the latter. But I would rather not choose. And I am afraid that the political elite now who are running this country are not thinking seriously enough about procedures of protecting democratic development. They care instead about the reinforcement of their own political power. They are not interested in personal political power but the power of their political camp. I very much dislike the way the Solidarity camp, the citizens committees, function now. They remind me of quite bad times of the party committees in the wojewodstwa [regions]. This is not why the Round Table was constructed.
Walesa talks about center-right and center-left. [Reykowski scowls]. You seem rather dismissive of the notion!
Well, one of my acquaintances from the American embassy told me that when they prepared information in advance of Walesa’s trip to the U.S., they said: don’t take literally the words of Walesa. He told me that when Kohl speaks, every part of the sentence has political meaning. Kohl is like mathematics: you can study the words and the sentences and you can read the political intentions. But it is completely opposite with Walesa. So they were warning politicians to read his utterances in a different way. And this is absolutely true. He seems to say things that are expedient in the immediate context. The context changes and he says completely different things. This is dangerous in politicians.
Also, we were discussing at Magdalenka [a place outside Warsaw where chief negotiators during the round table discussions often met for informal sessions; the term was often used as a code word for “secret deals” made between Solidarity leadership and the government] the problems of the concept of presidential prerogatives and we had some proposals and the Solidarity side said, “Ok, you assume that it will be Jaruzelski who will have all these prerogatives. But what if it will be Walesa? It will be dangerous to give him all these prerogatives!” This was March last year and at this time it was a joke. But I think that this conveys their uneasiness about Walesa’s manner of politics. Another colleague from Solidarity told me that Walesa says what the last of his advisors told him.
Perhaps from the U.S. point of view, Walesa is more of a politician than, say, a Mazowiecki precisely because of his habit of making expedient statements?
I’m not sure whether American presidents or high officials act like this. Of course, every politician must use the criteria of expediency. But at the same time, the leader must see a number of issues which should be coordinated not just a particular one. Moreover, very important, in American popular thinking, the President is a man who runs the country. I have the feeling that you have well-developed mechanisms of running the country. For instance, with Reagan, I have feeling that he communicated a political strategy rather than creating one. And, once the institutions are constructed, maybe anybody can be a President. Major strategies, after all, are created by a network of mechanisms which have a lot of experience, with a lot of experts working on them. When a system is lacking these mechanisms, the personality of the leader is much more important than in a system that has 200 years of experience.
What is the alternative to Walesa as president?
For the time being, I think that Jaruzelski should stay and of course I would join those who would prefer Mazowiecki.
And then who would fill Mazowiecki’s position?
From my experience during the Round Table negotiations, I didn’t expect Mazowiecki as a candidate for prime minister. I have high regard for Geremek as a statesman however I am afraid of his tendency for ideologization. Sometimes he thinks more in terms of symbols than in specific things. I think that we need people who think in terms of political necessity, political interests and who treat political values as real things and not as symbols to be put on banners without any thought of implementation.
As a medieval historian, perhaps Geremek is accustomed to trafficking in symbols. It goes with the territory, as we say in English. I had a discussion with someone at the Foreign Ministry and he spoke of a de-ideologization there. Do you think it remarkable that people in the Ministry changed from Party members to supporting an anti-Communist government?
For last several years, you could observe among party members, especially those playing professional roles in different apparatuses, the phenomenon of de-ideologization. They were state employees, thinking in terms of state interests. Being in the party meant for many people to serve the Polish state. So, for many people, it was not such a large change as an external observer might expect. It was misread by many people–deliberately by Solidarity people, but also be people abroad–there was an expectation that they were ardent Communists. There were quite few. It is also related to such a phenomenon. Communism in its radical form was an ideology that appealed extensively to the plebian, the lowest classes, the underprivileged for whom it gave chance for real advancement personally and in class. And Communism gave them this. But with educational advancement in society, there was a decreasing affinity with Communism in its original form. Therefore for example, in the Party apparatus twenty years ago, there were plenty of people who were poor peasant sons and daughters with primary education perhaps with some courses in addition. Simple-minded people, primitive, quite primitive. But in the 1980s, you had people with college education, with doctoral degrees. For them, this ideology was a different thing. This is also why the Party was so readily moving toward reform.
The Communist Party obviously tried to eliminate class differences. But it also tried to eliminate the division between intellectual and working class, yes?
It did happen. Let me give you a small example. Before the war, my father was a low-ranking official in the city council. I remember his salary before the war: 400 zlotys. We had a maid. And the maid received 20 zlotys. And it was an enormous difference manifested in the proportion of pay. Now, I as an academic professor, if we have someone to help my wife three times a week, I have to pay 1/3 of my salary. This indicates the evaluation of the different kinds of work. The class differences in Poland were enormous. Peasants and intelligentsia were completely different. And now, they are people of the same status. Real abolition of social differences in Poland happened. It isn’t that the society has become equal. There are still a lot of inequalities in Poland. But they are incomparable to what it was like before the revolution.
Well, it seems that economically things changed–professors were earning sometimes much less than coalminers. But don’t professors still think of themselves as members of a distinct class of intellectuals while coalminers still see themselves as working class?
Yes, people do differ from one another and education is a major factor in determining these differences. But it is not now a vertical difference. This miner does not think of himself as lower by nature than a teacher or doctor. Qualitative differences remain between people. But to a much less degree are there these feelings of superiority, of higher and lower.
Will the economic changes re-establish the old vertical order?
If this plan will be implemented in its original, unattenuated form, it will re-establish this structure. But I don’t think it will. In American society, one is struck that despite enormous economic differences, people don’t feel worse despite being lower on the economic scale. There is great equality in self-assessment, psychologically. The President is considered to be “one of us.” This then is an example that great economic differences do not involve this psychological import.
What are you doing now in terms of politics?
Every now and then I meet with the Social Democrats [Kwasniewski] and discuss with them some issues. But I would most like to contribute to political life within my present role by writing, commenting, doing research in political psychology. Now I am interested in this phenomenon of anti-democratic fundamentalism that is characteristic of different political orientation. Within each political group you have certain intolerant people with a low-level of perspective taking.
And the future of a left in Poland?
As there is a growing awareness of inequality in society, people in Poland will learn that the success of reform does not mean success for all. It means that only certain classes will succeed. It will take some time before these facts of reform will be available to all. When the realization hits, then the left will reappear. There will be competition from right-wing nationalism and populism. But a new generation will appear, one for whom the Solidarity politics and the Balcerowicz plan is their reality and the Party will be part of history. This generation will be much more open to alternatives…