5.15 The myth of invasion
5.16 “There can be no armed intervention”
5.17 Operation X
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
5.18 Where can we get 30,000 tons of meat?
5.19 The world crisis of socialism
Even before the 1983 elections in Britain and West Germany, and the deployment of the new missiles, events in Poland delivered a serious blow to the peace campaign. The impact was almost immediate and, moreover, entirely visible. In October and November 1981, noted E.P. Thompson, the crowds of protestors across Europe had swelled in number to more than two million. “Why then in spring or autumn 1982 did not three or four million take to the streets?” he asked . “The answer is the introduction of martial law in Poland and the reprisals against Solidarity.”
It is hard to say which aspect of the Polish crisis made a greater impression on the protestors. Was it the threat of a Soviet invasion which hung over Poland for almost one and a half years, and the crushing of a peaceful popular movement by the army? Or was it the movement itself, which embraced almost all the country’s working population?
For peace campaigners in the West who, for the most part, belonged to a variety of left-wing parties and organisations the second consideration was not the least important. Many of them, for the first time, perhaps, started to wonder what life was like in the socialist paradise; and they most certainly could not (at least openly) fail to sympathise with a trade union movement. The need to provide a political assessment of this event led inevitably to discord within their ranks. Communists like the Italians supported Solidarity while socialists, such as the Greek PASOK, supported martial law and Jaruzelski’s regime.
Could there be a situation more fatal for Communist demagogues than a unanimous revolt of the workers against the “proletarian State”? Even Soviet propaganda hesitated to call Solidarity a reactionary organisation and referred instead to the “individual anti-socialist elements” within the movement. The timing of the crisis, at the height of the “struggle for peace”, could not have been worse. The Soviet Union was just beginning to emerge from the political isolation that followed the invasion of Afghanistan. The old men of the Kremlin simply did not have the strength to cope with all the crises and campaigns that arose within a single year.
Poland was always the weakest link in the socialist chain. Even under Stalin its new rulers failed to break the Catholic Church and collectivise the peasants, thereby suppressing the rebellious spirit of the Poles. This spirit enabled Poland to survive three partitions, and the Nazi occupation and Soviet “liberation” with which World War Two began and ended. Public disturbances were and remained a classic Polish response to oppression.
From 1968 onwards, they occurred every 3-6 years: in 1970, in 1976, and in 1980. Each time, there were fatalities but the authorities were forced to make concessions. (Moscow covered its face and peeked through its fingers, praying that the Poles did not begin a serious uprising.) According to a contemporary joke Poland was the most cheerful barrack in the Soviet camp. Almost a third were employed in the private sector, as petty traders or in services. This already offered much more personal freedom than any other reforms by the government, though the fact could hardly be appreciated by anyone who has not lived in a socialist country. And the country had as many reforms as rebellions. By 1980 they had tried every imaginable and unimaginable model of socialism; none had worked. The final crisis arose for a most prosaic but, for socialism, extremely typical reason. Mired in foreign debt, the Polish government was forced to raise food prices, especially on meat, knowing full well that a similar attempt had provoked the disturbances in 1976. Yet what could it do? The country was bankrupt and could not even pay the interest on its Western bank loans…
The previous disturbances, meanwhile, had left their mark on Polish society. Experience was gained and dissident structures were perfected – the relative mildness of the regime allowed this to happen. After the 1976 events the Workers’ Defence Committee (KOR) was set up and went into action. It acted as a centre for coordinating dissident activities, providing both a link between the workers’ movement and the intelligentsia and an independent system of communications between various groups and between different parts of Poland. During the 1980 crisis KOR played a key role. It helped to transform spontaneous, scattered strikes into a general strike, after mobilising the entire country. As for the workers, instead of taking to the streets, as usual, in demonstrations and bloody clashes with the police, they adopted a new and original form of protest by occupying their factories, mines and docks. This caught the authorities, in both Warsaw and Moscow, off-guard. That is the only explanation for the unusual readiness of the Polish authorities to permit the creation of the independent Solidarity trade union and to make several other concessions to the workers. Faced by the impossibility of deploying their only weapon, political power, the authorities preferred to agree to everything in order to restore calm in Poland. (Later, of course, they intended to quietly remove these concessions.)
The Soviet authorities had also learned some lessons. The crisis in Poland was not a surprise. They had been preparing for such an eventuality since at least April 1979 , knowing that price rises were unavoidable. The situation was repeatedly discussed when Brezhnev met Gierek, the Polish leader. At their last meeting on 31 July 1980, when the price rises had occurred and the strikes had already begun, Brezhnev rightly feared that the economic crisis could lead to a purely political movement. He then offered Gierek the following recommendations :
“… you must firmly halt any attempts to use nationalism or introduce anti-socialist, anti-Soviet feelings, or to distort the history of Soviet-Polish relations and the nature of cooperation between the USSR and Polish People’s Republic;
“you must launch uncompromising counter-propaganda against the striving to smear the class content of socialist patriotism under the slogan ‘All Poles are brothers’ and to idealise Poland’s pre-revolutionary past;
“in the political battle with anti-socialist elements you must not go on the defensive but lead a determined offensive against them.”
What the Kremlin had not expected was the weakness of its clients, the Polish communists (the Polish United Workers’ Party or PZPR), and their clear incapacity to cope with the crisis. Many years later Moscow was still unable to grasp how the entire nation had come together to resist Poland’s leaders. They really believed, it seems, that there was merely a handful of troublemakers (certain “elements”) whom the Polish comrades were treating too gently.
The first task of the urgently appointed Politburo commission on Poland (25 August 1980*, Pb 210/II) was to draw up instructions for the Polish leadership on measures to “strengthen the role of the Party in society” – as if they were discussing a region within the USSR where the schoolchildren had been getting out of hand. In preparing to talk to the Polish leadership the Politburo gave a most uncompromising assessment of the Gdansk Agreements (3 September 1980*, St 213/38):
“The agreement, concluded by the government of the Polish People’s Republic and endorsed by the plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR), is a high political and economic price to pay for the ‘normalisation’ it has achieved. Of course, we understand the circumstances in which you had to make this onerous decision. The agreement, in essence, signifies the legalization of the anti-socialist opposition. An organization has emerged that aims to spread its political influence through the entire country. The complexity of the struggle against it stems, in particular, from the fact that the members of the opposition disguise themselves as defenders of the working class and working people.
“The agreement does not eliminate the underlying causes of the events leading to the crisis. Moreover, it has now become more complicated to resolve the urgent problems facing the Polish economy and Polish society.
“Because the opposition intends to continue struggling to achieve its aims, and the healthy forces of the party and society cannot agree to Polish society moving backwards, the compromise you have reached will most probably be temporary. We must also bear in mind that the opposition, not without reason, is counting on help from outside.
“Under pressure from anti-socialist forces, who have led a significant portion of the working class astray, the PZPR had to go on the defensive. Now the TASK IS TO PREPARE A COUNTER-ATTACK AND RECLAIM THE POSITIONS THAT HAVE BEEN LOST AMONG THE WORKING CLASS AND THE PEOPLE.
“Showing political flexibility, this counterattack should make use of all the capacity of the ruling Party and its strong, healthy core, and of the State apparatus. It should use mass social organizations while relying on the vanguard ranks of the working class and, when necessary, make a carefully-judged use of administrative resources.
“The Party must give a principled political evaluation of the August  events and move more rapidly to present its own program of action, which includes improvements to the lives of working people.”
In Moscow, it was considered particularly important to strengthen the Party’s control over the media, and above all radio and television to which, because of the Gdansk Agreements, the Church had for the first time gained access.
“In these circumstances the limits on what is permissible must be precisely defined, after openly declaring that the law on the press excludes any attacks on socialism. … Using the mass media, show that events in Poland have been caused not by shortcomings of the socialist system, but by mistakes and oversights, and by some objective factors (natural calamities, etc.).”
Gierek was dismissed. Stanislaw Kania became the new secretary general of the Polish United Workers Party but things did not get any easier. In October, it was decided to invite the Poles to Moscow to talk face to face. The day before their arrival the Politburo discussed the forthcoming visit (29 October 1980*, Pb).
BREZHNEV. The PZPR First Secretary, Comrade Kania, and the Chairman of the Polish Council of Ministers, Comrade Pinkowski, are to visit us tomorrow. The Politburo commission (Comrades Suslov, Gromyko, Andropov, Ustinov, Chernenko, Zimyanin, and Rusakov) has provided materials for our discussions with the Polish leaders. I have closely read these materials. I believe the comrades have covered all the major issues. Perhaps someone has a comment. If so, let’s discuss the matter.
USTINOV. I have also closely read the prepared materials. I think they’re sound and cover all the issues. Most important is that all the issues are here raised very frankly, just as they should with the Polish leaders.
BREZHNEV. Counter-revolution is indeed now in full swing in Poland. Yet neither the Polish press nor the speeches of the Polish comrades say anything about it. There is no word about the enemies of the people. Yet those enemies of the people, the direct accomplices of the counterrevolution, and the counterrevolutionaries themselves, are acting against the people. How can that be? …
ANDROPOV. Instead of exposing the antisocialist elements, the Polish press is giving overwhelming emphasis to the shortcomings of the Central Committee leadership, etc. We must speak directly about the enemies of the Polish socialist order. The antisocialist elements, like Walesa and Kuron, want to take power away from the workers. The Polish leaders should have spoken directly about this, but we don’t see anything about it in the Polish press.
GROMYKO. We must speak firmly and sharply to the Polish comrades. […] As concerns Comrade Jaruzelski, he is a reliable man, of course, but he is now beginning to speak without any real conviction. He even said that the troops will not agree to act against the workers. In general I think we must speak to the Poles about all this and in very sharp terms.
BREZHNEV. When Jaruzelski was talking to Kania about who should take the lead, he flatly refused to be First Secretary and suggested that Kania serve in the post. That also says something.
GROMYKO. I believe that all major issues were well covered in the prepared materials. As concerns the introduction of a state of emergency in Poland, this must be kept in reserve as a measure to protect the gains of the revolution. Of course, it doesn’t have to be done immediately, perhaps; and particularly not immediately after the return of Kania and Pinkowski from Moscow. Some time should elapse. But we should steer them toward that decision and fortify their resolve. We cannot lose Poland. During the battle with the Hitlerites the Soviet Union lost 600,000 of its soldiers and officers in liberating Poland, and we cannot permit a counterrevolution. …
The Party ideologist Suslov thought the current leaders of the Polish People’s Republic were not strong enough, but they were “honest and the best among the core leadership”. They must counter-attack rather than occupy a defensive position.
BREZHNEV. They must set up self-defence detachments.
ANDROPOV, SUSLOV, and USTINOV agree that this measure is necessary. Defence detachments must be created and even be kept in barracks, and in due course they should also, perhaps, be armed.
SUSLOV. We once wrote a letter to Gomulka [PZPR leader, 1956-70], saying that he should not use firearms against the workers, but he didn’t heed us and the Polish leadership then used firearms.
PONOMAREV. The documents prepared for the discussions with the Polish leaders make good sense, and everything here is realistic. The materials strongly emphasize our alarm. We must convey this alarm to the Polish leaders.
GROMYKO. Perhaps we should give these materials to the Polish leaders.
ANDROPOV. If we hand over the materials, we can’t rule out the possibility that they’ll be passed on to the Americans.
BREZHNEV. That could well happen.
RUSAKOV. Let them listen closely to Leonid Ilych and take notes. …
TIKHONOV. Of course, Leonid Ilych, you must begin by speaking about these matters and set forth everything that is written here. We are inviting them to come here to express our alarm at the situation that has developed in Poland. The actions of counterrevolutionary elements are unmistakable in Poland now. Let the Polish leaders say what is going on, why they let things reach this stage. They should give an explanation. Communists are leaving the Party, fearing the antisocialist elements. That’s how bad things have got already. …
KIRILENKO. It’s been three months since the strikes started and they show no signs of subsiding. We’ve done a great deal for Poland; we provided everything and recommended how to deal properly with the matters that have arisen. So far, they have not brought the military into the struggle against antisocialist elements and, as comrades in this meeting correctly pointed out, they have not even exposed these elements for what they are. The situation with the young is now bad. The Komsomol, as such, no longer exists there. There are no detachments of young people either. Perhaps they should take the soldiers out of uniform and spread them among the working masses. …
The materials prepared for the fraternal working visit by the Polish leaders to the USSR were approved.
This may sound comical. Constant pressure from Moscow on the Polish leadership, however, had some effect. No matter how much the influence of the PZRP had weakened, it still had an extensive apparatus and the structures of a totalitarian State placed powerful means of control and suppression in the hands of the Party. The Kremlin strategists were essentially right. The totalitarian system was devised to battle endlessly against the people and, that being so, everything depended on its skilful manipulation.
Moscow’s unwavering attention forced the dispirited Polish leadership to put aside doubts and hesitations and take more energetic action. Brezhnev spoke over the phone with Kania almost every week while other members of the Soviet Politburo shadowed Polish colleagues with responsibilities similar to their own. Periodically, high-ranking Soviet delegations visited Poland to examine the situation at first hand. Moscow in effect took over management of the entire situation, down to the pettiest details. Almost as in Afghanistan special advisers and groups of experts on all issues were sent to Poland, and nothing was done without their agreement (or, at least, without that of Soviet ambassador Aristov). Even the economic programme adopted by the PZRP at its congress was examined and then corrected in Moscow (19 January 1981, St 246/79). The Kremlin made use of everything, the slightest disagreements within the leadership of Solidarity, the most minor errors they committed. The KGB presence in Poland was boosted .
Lastly, the threat of a Soviet invasion was deliberately used as a powerful form of psychological pressure on the population. No real preparations for this scenario were made. Military manoeuvres were held in Poland, for instance, and intentionally promoted to demonstrate a readiness “to provide international aid”. From the very beginning of the crisis, however, this was no more than a bluff. “Decisive action” was demanded of the Poles but this meant repressive measures and the introduction of martial law: the possibility of invasion was simply not considered.
By one means or another, the Kremlin and its Polish clients managed to stabilise the situation by early 1981. Evidently it helped that the Solidarity leaders themselves had not expected to be so successful. They had prepared mainly to deal with repressive measures and did not really understand what to do with their success. One high-ranking Soviet visitor to Poland reported (22 January 1981):
“The country is in a state of constant discussion, in the Party organisations and in the factories. These discussions are also held in the media where there are often debates about the Polish model of socialism, liberalisation, the revision of Marxism-Leninism, pluralism in political life, and so on.”
Even that state of affairs did not suit Moscow. There had been no decisive breakthrough. The crisis was not over, and its negative consequences were beginning to be felt both in the West and even inside the Soviet Union when the Politburo met in April (2 April 1981*, Pb).
BREZHNEV. All of us are deeply alarmed by what may happen next in Poland. Worst of all is that the friends listen and agree with our recommendations, but are doing hardly anything. Meanwhile the counterrevolution is attacking along the entire front.
Members of the Politburo are familiar with the content of all previous discussions with the Polish leaders. I will speak briefly about my most recent telephone conversation with Kania, on 30 March.
Kania described the recent plenum of the PZPR Central Committee and complained that they had been roundly criticized at the plenum. I replied immediately: “They were right to do so. They shouldn’t have just criticized you; they should have grabbed a club. Then, perhaps, you would understand.” These were literally my words.
Comrade Kania acknowledged that they are acting too leniently and need to be more forceful.
At that point, I said to him: “How many times have we insisted that you must take decisive measures, that you can’t make endless concessions to Solidarity. You always speak about a peaceful path, but you don’t understand (or don’t wish to understand) that the ‘peaceful path’ you support is likely to cost you blood. That’s why it’s important to draw the right conclusions from the criticism at the plenum.”
The friends succeeded in preventing a general strike. But at what price? By giving in yet again to the opposition. Kania himself acknowledged in a conversation with the [Soviet] ambassador that this new compromise was a huge mistake.
Brezhnev proposed that the Soviet leadership respond to the requests of the Polish “friends” for a discreet meeting on border at Brest between Andropov and Ustinov and Kania and Jaruzelski. A high-level meeting of the seven member-States of the Warsaw Pact to discuss the Polish question was another measure being held in reserve.
BREZHNEV. We have a Commission on Poland. Perhaps the comrades from the Commission, who are following events in that country, wish to say something?
ANDROPOV. I believe the suggestions put forward by Leonid Ilych concerning our next steps vis-à-vis Poland and his assessment of the situation there are entirely correct. Indeed, we must now try to exert greater influence and put greater pressure on the friends’ leadership. The proposal that I travel with Comrade Ustinov for a meeting with Kania and Jaruzelski is, I believe, appropriate. …
(USTINOV supported the proposals in similar terms.)
GROMYKO. Let me briefly inform you what we are hearing through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is a huge amount of information about Poland. It should be said, however, that in the USA, the Federal Republic of Germany and other countries they are closely following the situation in Poland and greatly distorting the true state of affairs. Of course, the presentation of both American and West Europe an information about events in Poland is tendentious. They talk of the “justice” of the demands made by Solidarity and the antisocialist forces in Poland and the inability of the Polish leadership to resolve internal problems. At the same time, a great many words are directed towards the Soviet Union, as if warning us that our armed forces must not interfere in Poland’s affairs. That’s to be expected, however: bourgeois propaganda has always adopted hostile attitudes towards the Soviet Union and, as I said, is now presenting this information in a tendentious manner.
Kania and Jaruzelski, I’d like to say, are not in a particularly good way. There are hints even that Jaruzelski is completely worn out and does not know what to do next. This is extremely bad, of course. It’s very bad that during their negotiations with Solidarity, the leaders of the Polish People’s Republic took a step backwards. Even the Polish leaders themselves say that the latest agreement with Solidarity was a mistake of the Polish leadership.
As concerns Rural Solidarity, it has effectively already been legalised. … How are we to assess the situation in Poland following the plenum of their Central Committee? I think we wouldn’t be wrong to say that there has been no improvement. On the contrary, things have got worse still because the leadership is moving backwards. But as Leonid Ilych already said, Kania is asking that our Comrades Andropov and Ustinov go to Brest for an exchange of views with Comrades Kania and Jaruzelski. I believe we should agree, especially because it will be an opportunity to say everything to the Polish friends face to face. This meeting, in my view, is a kind of intermediary step, and we should use it to the full. If they are prepared for a partial introduction of emergency measures, we must ask whether they are sure that the army, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and state security will be on their side. … The Polish High Command has declared that the army will do its duty. Is that really so? In any case, we must tell the Polish comrades that it is essential to adopt firmer, I would say extraordinary, measures to restore order, and that further concessions on their part are simply unacceptable. There is already no room for further retreat.
USTINOV. As concerns the military things stand as follows. Today at 8.00 pm the military leadership is meeting with Comrades Kulikov and Kryuchkov and others of our comrades. As far as the Polish army is concerned, it is, as Comrade Jaruzelski declares, ready to do its duty. If we’re to speak frankly, however, we must bear in mind that Kania and Jaruzelski are hardly likely to force a confrontation, after the clash in Bydgoszcz.
The outcome of that conflict shows that if only two people from Solidarity are somehow injured, the whole country is up in arms, i.e. that Solidarity could mobilize its forces quickly. Of course, there remains some hope that the army, state security, and the police will put up a united front, but the further things go, the worse they will become. I think that bloodshed can’t be avoided; it will occur. If they’re afraid of that then, of course, they’ll have to surrender one position after another. That way all the gains of socialism could be lost.
I have also been thinking about another question: whether we won’t have to take certain economic measures. How do the Polish friends now view this matter? We are helping them, we’re depriving ourselves and our other friends of goods and giving them to Poland, yet the Polish people know nothing about this. None of the Poles have any clear idea that Poland is receiving full shipments of oil, cotton, and so forth, from us. If the help the Soviet Union was providing the Poles was all added up and properly examined, and if they described this help on television, on radio, and in the press, the Polish people, I believe, would understand who is providing the major portion of their economic assistance. But not a single Polish leader has spoken before the workers and discussed this assistance.
With regard to the Polish leaders, I believe it’s difficult to say which of them is best. Earlier we regarded Comrade Jaruzelski as a stalwart figure, but now he has proven to be weak. …
BREZHNEV. We must tell them what it means to introduce martial law and explain it all very plainly.
ANDROPOV. That’s right, we must tell them that the introduction of martial law means imposing a curfew, limiting movement and traffic on city streets, and heightened protection for State and Party institutions, enterprises, etc. Under pressure from the leaders of Solidarity, Jaruzelski has gone soft, and recently Kania has taken to drinking more and more. It’s a very regrettable situation. I think we have plenty of reasons to meet Kania and Jaruzelski. Obviously, we need to listen to what they have to say.
I would like to add that the Polish events are influencing the situation in the western regions of our country, especially in Belorussia. Reception of Polish-language radio and television is good in many villages there. At the same time, it should be said that in certain other areas, especially in Georgia, we have had spontaneous demonstrations. Groups of loudmouths have been gathering on the streets, as happened in Tbilisi not long ago, proclaiming anti-Soviet slogans, and so on. Here we must also adopt severe measures within the country.”
From the very beginning of the crisis in Poland, Moscow had been taking the most radical measures to prevent the Polish disease from spreading. Tourist trips to and from Poland were cut sharply, almost by a half (28 November 1980, St 239/36); steps were taken to further restrict and censor the Polish press, to which people in the USSR subscribed or which was sold openly there (22 December 1980, St 242/61); and propaganda was intensified .
Attempts were made to undermine the authority of Solidarity abroad, especially among fraternal organisations and parties. Reporting to his fellow Politburo members (13 January 1981, 18-S-62)  Ponomarev made the following suggestions:
“A delegation from Solidarity (18 people), headed by L. Walesa, will be in Italy from 14 to 18 January 1981 at the invitation of local trade unions. The delegation also includes representatives of the antisocialist political opposition.
“According to available information, the bourgeois parties and mass media intend to make wide use of the trip by this delegation to discredit the socialist order in the Polish People’s Republic and to support the policy of eroding and eventually eliminating socialist gains in Poland. To this end, plans are under way to organize a reception for the members of the delegation by high-level trade union and political figures. In addition to a meeting with the Pope in the Vatican, there are plans for L. Walesa and his delegation to be welcomed by the leadership of the United Trade Union Federation (CGIL, CISL, UIL), and for meetings to be organized with workers’ groups. Despite a preliminary decision to avoid meeting with L. Walesa, the Italian Communist Party (PCI) leadership so far has been wavering in its position and has not ruled out the possibility of some sort of contact with him.
“We believe it would be worthwhile to approach the PCI leadership, which is strongly-placed within the Italian trade union movement and has substantial influence on political circles in the country.
“In this connection instructions could be given to the Soviet ambassador in Italy to meet with E. Berlinguer or one of his deputies and to draw the attention of the PCI leadership to the need to take all possible steps to ensure that L. Walesa’s trip to Italy does not result in support for the approach of the antisocialist political opposition.”
When the leaders of Eastern Europe gathered in Moscow for the CPSU’s 26th Congress (23 February-3 March 1981) they expressed extreme concern, especially Honecker, that the Polish virus might spread further (12 March 1981).
Unfortunately, Solidarity did not appreciate the importance of exporting its experience to the other barracks of the socialist camp. Only much later, at its first Congress in September 1981, did the movement’s leaders adopt their renowned “Appeal to the Workers of Eastern Europe”; and this supposedly happened, moreover, almost by accident, on the initiative of the rank and file delegates. Yet it was this appeal which commanded universal attention as the most politically mature act. With good reason the Kremlin was furious (10 September 1981*, Pb).
BREZHNEV. Yesterday I familiarized myself with the “Appeal to the Workers of Eastern Europe,” which was adopted by the Congress of Polish Solidarity. It’s a dangerous and provocative document. It contains few words, but they all aim at the same target. The authors of the appeal would like to create confusion in the socialist countries and stir up groups of different types of turncoats. I think we should not limit ourselves to criticism in press of this insolent stunt. What if the collectives of our largest enterprises — say, the Kirov factory, Magnitogorsk, Kamaz, etc. — give a rebuff to these demagogues? It will be difficult, probably, to ignore their letters to the Solidarity congress, particularly when we feature these letters prominently in our media.
If the comrades agree, we’ll instruct the Polish commission to approach three or four factory collectives and help them, as needed, prepare a rebuff to “Solidarity. …
ZIMYANIN. I want to tell the Politburo what sorts of publications are planned in connection with the Solidarity congress. The congress, one could say, demonstrates a further worsening of the situation in Poland. As you know, they appealed to the parliaments and peoples of certain countries, including the socialist countries, with their program of “renewal”. Our press and TASS are now preparing appropriate materials in response, exposing the activities of the Solidarity trade union. I fully support the proposal by Leonid Ilych to have the collectives of major large enterprises offer statements. We shall also try to prepare something of this kind.
TIKHONOV. Nonetheless we will still need to react somehow, and take practical measures to deal with the stunts of delinquent elements in Poland, against whom the government is not taking any measures. For apart from defacing the monuments to our soldiers, they’re drawing all kinds of cartoons of our Party and government leaders, insulting the Soviet Union in every possible way, etc. In other words, they’re mocking us. We can’t remain silent any longer, it seems to me. Either at the State level or through some other channel, we must serve a protest to the Polish government about this. A failure to react, in my view, would be unacceptable.
GROMYKO. We must think this over carefully. We’re talking here about a country that is friendly to us.
GORBACHEV. I believe that Leonid Ilych was quite right in proposing that the collectives of large enterprises speak out and that the activities of Solidarity be exposed in our press.
And there followed workers’ meetings, angry speeches and resolutions of condemnation at all the factories in the Soviet Union. Whatever the wise leaders’ intentions may have been, however, this broke the embargo on information about events in Poland and forced people to begin speaking and thinking. Who can say where their thoughts might have led them, if this process had begun earlier? Unfortunately, the leaders of Solidarity were too cautious. They had feared to provoke their powerful neighbour although, it seemed clear, Big Brother would do everything he could without the need for any additional provocation.
5.15 The myth of invasion
Let us return to the secret meeting in Brest, between Andropov and Ustinov, and Kania and Jaruzelski. It was then that the decision to introduce martial law was taken. On their return to Moscow the comrades informed the Politburo about their work (9 April 1981*, Pb).
ANDROPOV. Comrade D.F. Ustinov and I, as agreed with the Polish comrades, travelled to the border and held a meeting there in a train carriage not far from Brest. The meeting began at 9:00 p.m. and ended at 3:00 a.m. so that the Polish comrades would not draw attention that they had gone off somewhere.
Our task was to listen closely to the Polish comrades and to offer our interpretation, as we agreed at the Politburo session.
The general impression from our meeting with the comrades was that they were very tense and nervous, and it was obvious that they were worn out. Comrade Kania said candidly that it’s very difficult for them to work under constant pressure from Solidarity and the antisocialist forces. At the same time, they declared that following the 26th Congress of the CPSU [23 February-3 March 1981], the situation in Poland is beginning to stabilize. Kania said that they had held electoral meetings in most the primary party organizations and it was noteworthy that not a single person from Solidarity had been included among the delegates: our candidates, in other words, were chosen for the [PZPR] congress. Then Comrade Kania felt compelled to say that recent events, especially the [27 March 1981] warning strike and the events in Bydgoszcz, had shown, “The counterrevolution is stronger than we are”. They were especially frightened by the warning strike and, even more, by the prospect of a general strike. They were doing everything possible to prevent a general strike.
What tasks do we face? asked Comrade Kania. Above all they had to restore the people’s trust in the Party, restore economic life, and eliminate strikes and work stoppages at factories. Of course, the Polish comrades have no experience in struggling against these negative phenomena. Therefore, they don’t currently know what methods to use and are lurching from one side to another. As for bringing in troops, they flatly said it is quite impossible; just as it is impossible to introduce martial law. They say that people won’t understand it and then they will be powerless to do anything. During the conversation, the comrades emphasized that they will restore order using their own means. They have in mind that the 9th Congress, for which they are now preparing, will not enable Solidarity to field its own candidates as delegates. In the Party organizations they are selecting good workers as delegates for the congress. …
Regarding martial law, it would have been possible to introduce it long ago. You know what the introduction of martial law would mean. It would help them smash the onslaught of the counterrevolutionary forces and other rowdy elements, and put an end once and for all to the strikes and anarchy in economic life. A draft document on the introduction of martial law has been prepared with the help of our comrades, and these documents must be signed. The Polish comrades said: But how can we sign these documents, when they haven’t yet been approved by the Sejm [parliament], etc. We said that there’s no need to submit them to the Sejm, etc. This is a document that lays down what you must do when you introduce martial law. We said that you, Comrades Kania and Jaruzelski, must now yourselves sign the document so that we know you agree with it and will know what must be done during martial law. If the time comes to introduce martial law, there’ll be no time then to draw up measures for introducing martial law, they must be prepared beforehand. That’s the point.
After our explanation, Comrades Kania and Jaruzelski said that they would look over the document on 11 April and sign it.
Andropov and Ustinov then asked what Comrade Jaruzelski would say in his speech to the parliament. He spoke at length “but not clearly”. He told them he would talk about banning strikes for two months. Two months will pass quickly, they responded, and then the strikes will start again. Broad political measures needed to be implemented now. To explain, at least, the shortages of bread and other food products in Poland.
ANDROPOV. Why is this happening? Because, of course, the strikes everywhere are disorganising the entire economy, that’s why. Billions and billions of zlotys are lost with each strike, but the workers don’t realize that, and all the blame falls on the government. The government, the Party’s Central Committee, and the Politburo take the blame while the ringleaders and organizers of the strikes stand to one side and appear to be defending the workers’ interests. But if you look at the real causes, we told them, those who are mainly to blame for all these economic hardships are Solidarity and the strike organizers. That’s how things are. Why can’t the workers be informed about all this?
There’s a good deal of talk in your country about creating a National Front of Salvation for Poland. Such conversations are taking place in several regions. The idea is to include veterans of the revolutionary movement, military commanders such as Rola-Zymierski, and others in this National Salvation Front for Poland. This, too, might be noted down. Or, for example, take the talk now in the Federal Republic of Germany about Silesia and Gdansk being territories annexed to Poland and giving them back to the FRG. Why not play up this issue? I think that the people could be brought together over such issues. You must stir up the people.
We said that we don’t object to the creation of a National Front of Salvation for Poland. But this front must not be a substitute for the Party and government. …
The Polish comrades said that three workers should be brought into the Politburo. They quoted Lenin who suggested bringing workers into the Politburo. We said we had not had workers in the Politburo but if you really have a need for that now then you can introduce, perhaps, one worker but not necessarily three into the Politburo. An additional number of workers could be elected to the Central Committee, in other words, these are all measures that will enable the Party to unite and consolidate. For example, you talk about bringing workers into the oversight agencies. That would not be a bad idea. …
We told Kania outright, Every day you keep backing down and retreating. You must act; you must approve military and emergency measures. …
Concerning support for the Politburo and on whom it might rely. Their army numbers 400,000 soldiers, the internal affairs ministry 100,000, and the reservists 300,000 — that is, 800,000 in all. Kania said that tensions have now diminished somewhat, and they have succeeded in preventing a general strike. But how long that calm will continue is difficult to say.
What had the two PZPR leaders been doing since the April meeting? Kania was on his way to Gdansk and Jaruzelski was rewriting his speech to the Sejm. There were many differences of view between the two men, however, on individual matters.
ANDROPOV. Comrade Jaruzelski has again requested that he be released from his post as prime minister. We explained to him in simple terms that he must remain in that post and give a worthy performance of duties with which he’s entrusted. We emphasized that the enemy is preparing its forces to seize power.
Other members of the Politburo, on the other hand, such as Comrades Olszowski and Grabski, have embraced a somewhat different and firmer position than that of the leadership. We must maintain contacts with them. They have proposed organising an underground Politburo and to carry on work in that fashion. They got this idea, apparently, from recommendations given to them by Comrade Zhivkov [Bulgaria]. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but they say that Comrade Zhivkov gave them such advice. We must also draw a conclusion from this: that if the leaders of fraternal parties are going to offer the Polish friends such advice, we of course will gain nothing from it and will only lose by it.
SUSLOV. Perhaps we must prepare information for the fraternal parties.
GROMYKO. But under no circumstances should we mention that a meeting took place.
ANDROPOV. Yes, it’s quite impossible to refer to the meeting.
USTINOV. Yu.V. Andropov has described everything very well. Therefore, I want briefly to mention the following. First, and it could not be mistaken, the dejected condition of the men we talked to. Nevertheless, it seems to me, we still need to preserve this pair, Kania and Jaruzelski, and consolidate relations between them. The members of their Politburo have disagreements. They are astonished most of all by the strikes, of course, they’re very afraid of them. We asked why they had changed their decision on Bydgoszcz. As you know, they didn’t want to back down on the Bydgoszcz conflict, but then they did back down. They asserted that they were facing the threat of a general strike. Next, we asked why they were paying workers during strikes. They say that Solidarity has demanded this. We responded that this meant they were just adopting Solidarity’s own line. On the question of Rural Solidarity, they have not yet reached a final decision, but they have already recognized the de facto existence of this organization. …
To dispel their fear about introducing a state of emergency or martial law, we gave the example of many countries in which a state of emergency or martial law was introduced as soon as there was even a hint of an uprising or the start of some sort of disorder. Take Yugoslavia. When demonstrations were held in Kosovo, they introduced martial law and no one said a word about it. It’s simply incomprehensible to us why the Poles are afraid to introduce emergency rule.
Yury Vladimirovich [Andropov] spoke well about the plans for introducing martial law. We said that it is necessary to sign the plan drafted by our comrades.
I then directly asked them, as we agreed in the Politburo, what will happen in Poland, what sort of economic state will it be in, if you botch things up there? At present, Poland is receiving all its oil for about half-price from the Soviet Union. It is also receiving cotton, iron ore, and many other goods. If it doesn’t receive these goods, what then? Why isn’t this fact being explained and brought to the attention of the workers? It could be a powerful weapon. You must speak about this to the workers; you must also speak about it to Solidarity. Solidarity has now entrenched itself at the largest factories. These factories must be taken away from Solidarity. You have good factories where the workers support the management. For example, the television factory. You can and must support the branch trade unions and conduct active work with them. Jaruzelski then said to me again that he can’t do such work and no longer has any strength, and he urged that he be released from his post.
How real was the threat of Soviet invasion? That is the key question of the Polish crisis. It affected and influenced the behaviour of Solidarity leaders, the reaction of Poles to the introduction of martial law, and the behaviour of the West. It continued to be the subject of fierce debates after the regime had collapsed, during the period of the Round Table discussions between Solidarity and the Party hierarchy in 1989.
After part of the Politburo minutes cited here were published in Poland, public opinion still regarded Jaruzelski as a hero, a man who saved his country from the horrors of Soviet occupation and the accompanying bloodshed, national humiliation and loss of statehood. Even when it became clear that Moscow had not been planning any invasion Poles were inclined to believe that Jaruzelski knew nothing and, therefore, was still a hero who had “saved Poland”. It hardly needs saying that this is a typical piece of self-justification and it proved convenient for the majority. It applied to former Communist leaders and to the vast number of Poles who, in one way or another, accepted martial law as a “lesser evil”: it was even true of former leaders of Solidarity who used it to justify their Round Table deal with the Party hierarchy. The “Saviour of the Fatherland” and father of the nation, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, continued to live in Warsaw.
I don’t know if all the Politburo documents were published in Poland. Those that lie before me leave not the slightest doubt that Moscow was not preparing to invade and that Jaruzelski was fully aware of the fact. Placing no especially trust in the Polish army, furthermore, Jaruzelski repeatedly asked towards the end of 1981 for the intervention of Soviet armed forces. The Kremlin resolutely refused. Jaruzelski introduced martial law, only after he became convinced that there would be no “military aid” from Moscow.
Soon after the secret meeting in Brest in April 1981, the Politburo commission gave a detailed analysis of the situation in Poland and of Soviet strategy there (23 April 1981*, Pb 7/VII).
“The internal crisis in Poland has become chronic and long drawn-out. To a significant degree, the PZRP [the Polish United Workers Party] has lost control over the processes taking place in society. Meanwhile, Solidarity has turned into an organised political force that can paralyse the activities of Party and State bodies and, in effect, seizing power. If the opposition has not seized power thus far, it is for fear, above all, that Soviet troops might intervene and in the hope that it can achieve its ends without bloodshed by means of a creeping counter-revolution.
“It is clear to everyone, nevertheless, that the calm period that followed the session of the Sejm will be short-lived. The enemy acted in this way from tactical considerations, while continuing to build up its forces in preparation for striking new blows against the Party. … Solidarity, as a whole and in its separate links, is preparing to blackmail the authorities once again, this time by putting forward various demands of a mainly political character. Signs of differences within the leadership of this trade union association do not so far offer grounds for expecting substantial changes in its general outlook. If things went so far as a split between Walesa and the extremists from KOR-KOS, Walesa and the Roman Catholic priesthood which stands behind him have no intention of easing the pressure on PZRP. It cannot be excluded that the extremists might seize control of Solidarity, with all the consequences that would entail.
“Recently a new tactical approach around which the varied opposition are effectively uniting has come to the fore. Realising that it cannot challenge Poland’s participation in the Warsaw Pact or the principle of the Communist Party’s leading role because of the country’s geopolitical position, these forces have clearly decided to undermine the PZRP from within. This would lead to the Party’s transformation and the opposition would seize power ‘on a lawful basis’. … In such circumstances it becomes necessary, once again, to assess our attitude to the policies of the Polish leadership, defining more precisely which forces we can rely on to defend the achievements of socialism in Poland.”
On the right wing were the “leaders of a revisionist outlook” who were close to social-democratic ideas and effectively in alliance with Solidarity. On the left wing, there were comrades “closer to our position”, for the most part old members of the Party.
“Unfortunately, representatives of the [second] tendency were far from a majority. We get the impression that they see a solution to the crisis in a frontal attack on Solidarity, and do not take account of the current balance of forces. They see no possibility of improving the situation, moreover, with the deployment of Soviet troops. Objectively, such a position will lead the Party’s ever greater isolation within the country.”
The Politburo saw the way out of the crisis that had developed through its support for Kania and Jaruzelski, who adopted a “centrist position”. They were showing “insufficient resolve and steadfastness in the struggle against the forces of counter-revolution” and they made unjustified concessions to Solidarity and even experienced “fear and panic when confronting Solidarity” but they were the best that could be found.
“Both, especially Jaruzelski, enjoy authority within the country. At present, there are effectively no other leaders who could be put in charge of the Party and State leadership.”
For this reason, the Politburo took a decision
“to continue to provide political support for Comrades Kania and Jaruzelski who, despite certain hesitations, are acting in the defence of socialism. At the same time, we should constantly try to secure from them more consistent and decisive action so as to overcome the crisis based on the preservation of Poland as a socialist country that is friendly towards the Soviet Union.”
In addition to this and other recommendations about strengthening the unity of PZRP, links with the working class, and economic measures, the Politburo proposed
“To make more active use of the differences that have appeared among the leaders of Solidarity; to unmask the anti-socialist and anti-national activities of KOS-KOR and their leaders; and to secure the isolation of these counter-revolutionaries. Decisive measures should be taken against attempts to stir up a wave of anti-Soviet feeling with the country.
“The Polish leadership should be prompted to show constant concern about the state of the army and agencies of the Ministry for Internal Affairs, monitoring their psychological-political steadfastness and readiness to fulfil their duty to defend socialism. …
“To maximise the restraining factor on the counter-revolution of the fears of internal reaction and international imperialism that the Soviet Union might deploy its armed forces in Poland. In foreign policy statements to emphasise our determination, as stated by Comrade Brezhnev at the CPSU 26th Congress, that Poland would not be abandoned to misfortune or humiliation.”
The Soviet threat, it is clear, was a bluff elevated to the level of State policy. From the very beginning preparations were made for martial law and all bets were placed on its introduction (and on a possible split in the leadership of Solidarity). Furthermore, these decisions were never changed, only minor details would be altered. By September 1981, for instance, it had become clear that Kania was not coping despite direct threats of dismissal from Brezhnev (18 June 1981, Pb). It reached a point where Honecker suggested that the leaders of fraternal parties be summoned to a meeting in Moscow at which Kania would be asked to resign and replaced by Olszowski (17 September 1981, Pb).
The Politburo decided not to change its plans and Jaruzelski was placed at the head of the PZRP. The latter knew very well, of course, why he had been made first secretary in addition to being prime minister and minister of defence. On the day of his “election” Brezhnev reminded him in a telephone call (19 October 1981*, Pb 1942).
BREZHNEV. Hello, Wojciech.
JARUZELSKI. Good day, deeply esteemed, dear Leonid Ilych.
BREZHNEV. Dear Wojciech, we have already sent you an official greeting, but I wanted to congratulate you personally on your election as First Secretary of the PZPR Central Committee.
It was right of you to give your consent to such a decision. In the PZPR there is at present no other individual whose authority equals yours; this is evident from the results of the vote at the plenum. We understand that the tasks you face are not at all easy. But we are convinced that you will master them and do everything to overcome the severe affliction that has struck your country.
Now, I think, it is most important for you to select reliable assistants from among loyal and steadfast Communists, to rally them and spur the whole party into action, instilling it with the spirit of struggle. This, literally, is the key to success.
And, of course, without wasting time, it is important to begin taking the decisive measures you outlined against the counterrevolution. We hope that everyone, both in Poland and abroad, will now feel that things in your country will take a different course.
We wish you good health and success!
JARUZELSKI. Thank you very much, dear Leonid Ilych, for the greeting and above all for the trust you have placed in me. I want to tell you frankly that I had considerable misgivings in accepting this post and agreed to do so only because I knew that you support me and that you were in favour of this decision. Had it not been so, I would never have agreed. It is a very burdensome and difficult task in the complicated situation in the country, where I now find myself both prime minister and minister of defence. But I understood that this is proper and necessary if you yourself consider it so.
I. BREZHNEV. Wojciech, we have thought that for a long time. We spoke about this to our friends some while back.
JARUZELSKI. And for that reason, I agreed. I will do all I can, Leonid Ilych, as a Communist and as a soldier, to make things better and to achieve a breakthrough in the situation in the country and in our party. I understand and fully agree with you that one of the crucial tasks now is to select the leadership in the party and in the government. For that reason, I deliberately deferred any decision about personnel matters until the next plenum, which we will hold in a few days’ time. In that way, I can give careful consideration to these matters and consult others, so that we reach a comprehensive decision and not simply make individual personnel changes.
I. BREZHNEV. Cadres are very important both at the centre and in the outlying regions.
JARUZELSKI. This issue must be resolved in the outlying regions as well. Of course, this must proceed alongside a strengthening of the party in the spirit of an intensified struggle. When the situation is right we must take decisive action to wage battle where we are confident of achieving success.
I’m now on my way to a session of the Military Council of the Armed Forces at the Ministry of Defence. There I will also be setting appropriate tasks. We will include the army widely in all the country’s spheres of activity.
Yesterday, after the plenum, I held a meeting with the first secretaries of the regional committees. They should not be offended, I said, that we will be including people from the armed forces in the implementation of certain processes and will be expanding meetings between the officer corps and the working class in order to exert direct influence on the workers and shield them from the influence of “Solidarity”. Of course, we are not hanging our general policy because we are struggling to win back the healthy forces of the nation who have gone astray and joined “Solidarity,” and, simultaneously, we will strike the adversary and do so in a way that brings results.
Today I am meeting with your ambassador. I will try to discuss certain issues with him in greater detail, and shall ask your advice on issues which he, no doubt, will convey to you.
In keeping you informed of all the decisions we reach, we will let you know, at the same time, what guided us in taking one decision or another.
At present the greatest complications arise from the situation with food at the market. This has led here to many strikes and protests, some organized by “Solidarity” and others that are simply spontaneous. This makes it very much complicated to carry out the measures that must be implemented, and complicates our work since the mood in society is not good. But we will be trying to do everything possible to improve the situation.
This is what I wanted to convey to you and to keep you informed about for the time being.
Once again, I want to thank you very much for your kind words.
BREZHNEV. Again, I wish you, Wojciech, good health and success.
JARUZELSKI. Thank you. Good-bye.
Would you say this man does not understand what the conversation is about? They all understood perfectly well. The Politburo was now tense with anticipation. Only ten days after Jaruzelski’s appointment the Kremlin was becoming nervous at the lack of visible change (29 October 1981*, Pb).
GROMYKO. With regard to Poland. I have just had a conversation with our ambassador, Comrade Aristov. He informed me that the one-hour strike was extremely impressive. At many enterprises, Solidarity has essentially taken over. Even those who want to work are unable to do so, because the Solidarity extremists are preventing them from working, threatening them in all possible ways, etc.
Concerning the plenum, Comrade Aristov reported that it proceeded normally and that they chose two additional Secretaries. At the Sejm, which opens on 30 October, they will be considering limitations on strikes. What comes of this law is still difficult to say. In any event attempts are being made, at least, to limit strikes by law. Comrade Jaruzelski’s speech at the plenum, I’d say, wasn’t bad.
BREZHNEV. I don’t believe Comrade Jaruzelski has done anything constructive. He’s not brave enough, it seems to me. … In one of our conversations [German Chancellor] Schmidt even blurted out that a very dangerous situation is emerging in Poland. This situation might become complicated, he said: it could affect my visit to the Federal Republic of Germany, which might have to be called off.
ANDROPOV. The Polish leaders are talking about military assistance from the fraternal countries. We need to adhere firmly to our approach, however: our troops will not be sent to Poland.
USTINOV. … our troops must not be sent to Poland. The Poles are not ready to receive our troops. At present their own conscripts who have served their term are being demobilized in Poland. They are sent home to get their civilian clothes, and then come back and serve another two months on public works. But during this time they come under the influence of “Solidarity.” Jaruzelski, as we know, has organized several undercover groups of approximately three people each. But these groups so far haven’t done anything. Obviously, we need a meeting with the leadership of Poland, especially with Jaruzelski. But who will attend such a meeting is open to question.
RUSAKOV. Tomorrow the Sejm opens, at which the issue of granting the government extraordinary powers to decide a number of matters will be raised. Jaruzelski would like to come to Moscow.
No one managed to travel to Poland to see Jaruzelski. Instead, Brezhnev sent him a “verbal message” via the Soviet ambassador. Among other things it said (21 November 1981, Pb 37/21):
“In many discussions with our side one and the same idea was constantly emphasised. We are not against agreements. They must not contain concessions to the enemies of socialism, however. Most important of all, matters should not be restricted to agreements alone. Alongside measures to win over the broad popular masses and a variety of political forces to your side you must also take decisive measures against the open enemies of the people’s system. You agreed with such a statement of the issues and yourself said you intended to struggle for the workers and, at the same time, strike the class enemy. … But now we get the impression that stress is being laid only on the first part of this two-part formula. We know that you have people in the Party leadership who place all their hopes on a continuation of the bankrupt policies pursued by Kania. It would be dangerous to give way to their persuasion. It is now absolutely clear that socialism cannot be saved in Poland without a determined struggle against the class enemy. It is not essentially a question of whether there will be a confrontation or not but as to who will start the confrontation, what means they will use to wage it, and who will retain the initiative.”
There was no mention, as we can see, of Soviet armed forces.
5.16 “There can be no armed intervention”
Three days before martial law was imposed, the Politburo still did not know exactly what Jaruzelski would do (10 December 1981*, Pb). This is probably the most interesting and convincing of the documents.
RUSAKOV. The day before yesterday they held a meeting of secretaries from the regional committees. As Comrade Aristov reported, the secretaries of the regional committees are baffled by Jaruzelski’s speech. He did not provide a clear, straightforward approach. No one knows what will happen over the next few days. There was talk about “Operation X”. At first, it was said it would happen during the night of 11-12 December, then during the night of 12-13 December. Now they’re already saying it will take place around 20 December. It is envisaged that Jablonski, the chairman of the State Council, will speak on radio and television and announce the introduction of martial law. Yet Jaruzelski declared that the law on the introduction of martial law can be used only after it has been considered by the Sejm, and the next session of the Sejm is scheduled for 15 December. Everything has become very complicated. The agenda of the Sejm has been published, and it makes no mention of the introduction of martial law. But in any case, Solidarity is aware that the government intends to introduce martial law and [the government] has been preparing all necessary measures to do so.
Jaruzelski himself says that he intends to address the Polish nation. In his address, however, he won’t be speaking about the party but instead he will appeal to Polish nationalist sentiments. Jaruzelski has been talking about the need to proclaim a military dictatorship, of the sort that existed under Pilsudski. He indicated that the Poles would understand this better than anything else. …
Jaruzelski has also been referring to a speech by Comrade Kulikov, who supposedly said that the USSR and other allied States would assist Poland with their armed forces. However, as far as I know, Comrade Kulikov did not say this directly, but merely repeated the earlier words of L. I. Brezhnev that we would not leave Poland in the lurch.
If we consider what is going on in the regions it must be frankly stated that the strength of the party organizations cannot be felt there. To some extent the administrative apparatus is still functioning, but in effect all power is in the hands of Solidarity. In what Jaruzelski says, it seems, he is trying to pull the wool over our eyes, because his words do not appear to reflect a proper analysis. If they [Polish comrades] don’t quickly organize themselves, pull themselves together and act against the onslaught of Solidarity, there will be no improvement in the situation in Poland.
ANDROPOV. From conversations with Jaruzelski it is clear that they have not yet reached a firm decision about introducing martial law. Even despite the unanimous vote by the PZPR Politburo on [the necessity of] the introduction of martial law, we have not yet seen concrete measures on the part of the leadership. The extremists in Solidarity have the Polish leadership by the throat. The Church in recent days has also clearly expressed its position, and has essentially gone over to the side of “Solidarity.”
Of course, in these circumstances the Polish comrades must swiftly prepare and carry out “Operation X”. Yet Jaruzelski declares that “we will resort to ‘Operation X’ when Solidarity forces us to do so.” This is a very alarming symptom, especially when the last session of the PZPR Politburo and the decision it adopted to introduce martial law, suggest that the Politburo is acting more decisively. All the members of the Politburo expressed support for resolute action. This decision pinned Jaruzelski down, and now he must find some way of extricating himself. Yesterday I spoke with Milewski and asked what measures they intended to take and when they would be taken. He told me that he didn’t know about “Operation X” or when, specifically it would be carried out. It seems that Jaruzelski is either concealing a plan of specific action from his comrades or is simply avoiding the implementation of that measure.
In the meantime, Rusakov added, Jaruzelski had put forward “quite insistent” demands on the Soviet leadership for economic support, making implementation of “Operation X” dependent on its willingness to offer economic and, indirectly, military assistance.
If you look at the list of goods the Polish comrades are requesting it must be said there are serious doubts about the necessity of supplying these products. What is the connection between the success of “Operation X”, for example, and the delivery of fertilizer and certain other goods? In this context, I’d like to say that our position, as formulated during the previous session of the Politburo and expressed earlier repeatedly by Leonid Ilych, is entirely correct, and we must not depart from it. In other words, we are taking a position of internationalist assistance and we are concerned by the situation that has developed in Poland. As concerns “Operation X”, however, it must wholly and entirely be a decision by the Polish comrades. Whatever they decide is what will be. We will not insist, and we will not dissuade them.
As concerns economic assistance it will, of course, be difficult for us to provide anything on the scale they have requested. Evidently, we should give something. But again, I’d like to say that the way the question of supplying goods as economic assistance is being raised is insolent; it’s all being done so that later if we do not deliver something, they’ll be able to lay the blame on us.
If Comrade Kulikov really spoke about sending troops [to Poland], then I consider he did so incorrectly. We can’t risk it. We do not intend sending troops to Poland. That is the right position, and we must stick to it. I don’t know how things will turn out in Poland, but even if Poland falls under the control of Solidarity, that’s one thing. If, on the other hand, the capitalist countries turn on the Soviet Union – and they have already reached agreement on a variety of economic and political sanctions – that will be very burdensome for us. We must show concern for our own country and for the strengthening of the Soviet Union. That is our main approach. …
As concerns the lines of communication between the Soviet Union and the GDR that run through Poland, we must do something, of course, to ensure that they are safeguarded.
GROMYKO. Today we are having a very frank discussion of the situation in Poland. Previously we did not discuss it so openly. That’s because now we ourselves don’t know what direction the events in Poland will take. The Polish leadership itself senses that power is slipping from its grasp. Kania and Jaruzelski, as you know, were counting on the support of the uncommitted. Now that option does not exist, there are no neutrals left. The position has become quite clear: Solidarity has proved to be a patently counterrevolutionary organization which aspires to rule and which has openly declared its intention to seize power. The Polish leadership must decide: if it fails to take decisive measures it will relinquish its positions; if takes decisive measures, introduces martial law, detains the Solidarity extremists, it will restore public order. There is no other way.
Gromyko expressed his agreement with previous speakers: “We can tell the Poles that we view the Polish events with understanding. This is a precise formulation …” At the same time the Politburo must discourage the expectations of Jaruzelski and other Polish leaders that Soviet troops might be sent to Poland.
GROMYKO. Despite the fairly unanimous vote of the PZPR Politburo about the introduction of martial law, Jaruzelski has now started wavering again. To begin with he took heart somewhat but now again he’s crumbled. Everything that was said to them previously remains true. If they continue to waver in the struggle against counterrevolution nothing of socialist Poland will remain. The introduction of martial law, of course, would persuade the counterrevolutionaries of the firm intentions of the Polish leadership. And if the measures they intend to carry out are implemented, I think we could expect positive results. …
We must not now issue any kind of harsh instructions which would force them to adopt one course or another. I think we will choose the correct position if we say that the restoration of order in Poland is a matter for the Polish United Workers’ Party, its Central Committee, and its Politburo. We have already told our Polish friends and will continue to tell them that they must adopt firm positions and simply must not lose heart.
Of course, if the Poles deliver a blow to Solidarity, the West in all likelihood will not give them credits and will not offer any other kind of help. They are aware of this, and this obviously is something that we, too, must bear in mind. For this reason, Leonid Ilych was correct in proposing that we instruct a group of comrades to examine this issue and, considering our capabilities, to extend substantial economic assistance to the Polish People’s Republic.
USTINOV. The situation in Poland, of course, is very bad. The situation is worsening day by day. Among the leadership, especially in the Politburo, there is no firmness or unity. And all of this has taken its toll on the state of affairs. Only at the last session of the [Polish] Politburo a decision concerning the introduction of martial law was unanimously approved. Now everything depends on Jaruzelski, how he manages to carry out that decision. But no one can openly speak yet about the actions of Jaruzelski. We don’t know either. I had a conversation with [General Florian] Siwicki. He was forthright and said, Even we [the Poles] don’t know what the general is thinking. So, the man who has effectively been discharging the duties of the Polish defence minister doesn’t know what will happen next or what actions the Polish prime minister and defence minister will take.
As concerns what Comrade Kulikov allegedly said about sending troops to Poland, I can state with full authority that Kulikov never said such a thing. He simply repeated what we said and what Leonid Ilych said, that we would not leave Poland in the lurch. And he perfectly well knows that the Poles themselves requested us not to send troops.
Soviet army garrisons in Poland were being reinforced. But Ustinov was inclined to think that the Poles would not seek a confrontation and only attack, perhaps, if Solidarity “has them by the throat”.
SUSLOV. I believe, as is evident from the comrades’ speeches, that we all take the same view of the situation in Poland. Throughout the entire period of events in Poland, we have displayed restraint and composure. Leonid Ilych Brezhnev spoke about this at the plenum. We said this in public to our people, and our people supported that policy of the Communist Party.
… This has enabled all peace-loving countries to understand that the Soviet Union staunchly and consistently upholds a policy of peace. That is why it is now impossible for us to change the position we adopted towards Poland from the very beginning of the Polish events. Let the Polish comrades themselves determine what actions they must pursue. It would be inappropriate for us to push them toward more decisive actions. But, as before, we will tell the Poles that we regard their actions with understanding.
It seems to me that Jaruzelski is displaying a certain degree of slyness. He wants to shield himself behind the requests he is making to the Soviet Union. These requests, naturally, are beyond our physical capacity to fulfil. Then Jaruzelski will say: I appealed to the Soviet Union for help, but didn’t get it.
At the same time, the Poles say directly that they are opposed to the sending of troops. If troops are sent that will be a catastrophe. I think we have all reached a unanimous view on this matter, and there can be no question of sending troops.
As concerns the provision of assistance to Poland, we have given it more than a billion roubles’ worth of assistance. Not long ago we decided to ship 30,000 tons of meat to Poland, of which 16,000 tons have already been delivered. I don’t know whether we’ll be able to ship the full 30,000 tons, but in any event, we apparently are obliged by this decision to give a further defined number of tons of meat as assistance. …
GRISHIN. The situation in Poland is getting steadily worse. Our party’s approach to the Polish events is entirely correct. …There can be no talk of sending troops. We will have to look at the economic issues and see what we can give the Poles.
SUSLOV. We must expose the intrigues of Solidarity and other counterrevolutionary forces in the press.
CHERNENKO. I fully agree with what the comrades have said here. The line of our party and of the Politburo regarding the Polish events, as formulated in the speeches of Leonid Ilych Brezhnev and in the decisions of the Politburo, is entirely correct and in no need of change.
I believe that today we could adopt the following decision:
1. Take note of the information provided by Comrade Baibakov.
2. In our future relations with the Polish People’s Republic, follow the general political approach on this matter laid down by the Central Committee, and follow the instructions from the Politburo on 8 December 1981 and the exchange of opinions that occurred at the Politburo’s session on 10 December 1981.
3. Instruct Comrades Tikhonov, Kirilenko, Dolgikh, Arkhipov, and Baibakov to continue studying questions of economic assistance to Poland, taking account of the exchange of opinions at the session of the Politburo.
BREZHNEV. How do the comrades feel about this?
EVERYONE. Comrade Chernenko has very properly formulated all the proposals. Let us adopt them.
The decree is adopted.
5.17 Operation X
The Soviet leaders were first-class gamesmen. I gasped with a certain relief when I heard that martial law had been imposed in Poland. At that moment, a Soviet invasion seemed entirely possible, and the bloody consequences of such an event would be inconceivable.
The half-million strong Polish army was excellently equipped and trained and, unlike its Czech colleagues twenty years before, would probably not remain neutral. There was no need to guess how the population would react. There would be war in the centre of Europe with a nation of 35 million who were known for their stubborn nature; guerrilla resistance would continue for decades and there would be hundreds of thousands of casualties. “Does the Kremlin not realise that?” I thought miserably to myself. “Are they really about to embark on such madness?”
Yet they had just got themselves tangled up in Afghanistan; they had put down the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. There was even less doubt that they could not “surrender Poland”. It was not just a matter of threats or what Brezhnev said: no less than 44 Soviet divisions had been deployed along the Polish border. What it must have been for the Poles to live with such a threat! It is not surprising that martial law came as a relief – it was the lesser evil, and they were inclined to justify the behaviour of their army and of Jaruzelski (even today hailing them as the saviours of their country). The colossal tension of those days found best expression, perhaps, in a Polish joke about someone drowning in the River Visla.
“Help! Help!” he shouted at the top of his voice.
The crowd watching from the bridge shouted back: “Keep your voice down! Do you want the Soviets to hear and come here with their ‘international assistance’?”
Only this purely neurotic reaction can explain the astonishing success of martial law, which was introduced with hardly any bloodshed. What can one say? The Soviet regime had again displayed its ability to present itself as the “lesser evil”. The Soviet regime was a “lesser evil” compared to the typhus and starvation of the Russian Civil War, compared to Hitler and nuclear war, and now it was a “lesser evil” than invasion by its forces. This trick was repeated dozens of times and, amazingly, it worked on each occasion.
Nor can we fail to mention the perennial carefree attitude of the Poles, who during the 18 months of the crisis had not bothered to create any parallel, underground structures. In one night Solidarity with its millions of activists and supporters simply ceased to exist. The leaders of Solidarity were not ready for martial law. The threat of repressive measures had hung over their heads for too long: they had become accustomed to the situation and ceased to make preparations. With few exceptions, their structures were all seized in the first few days and most the leaders were arrested. Psychologically this is understandable. The outcome you most expect usually catches you unawares. Now it is amusing to recall that on 13 December 1981, the very night martial law was introduced, I was talking on the phone with Adam Michnik. After commenting that, to judge by the photos, he had put on a lot of weight, I had just teased Adam and asked if it wasn’t time he went on a diet when the line went dead. It simply did not occur to me that the phones had gone dead all over Poland and that Adam, poor fellow, would lose a lot of weight over the next six months.
All in all, the Soviet calculation had been justified. Having achieved their goal, they struck the pose of innocent bystanders and informed fraternal parties (13 December 1981*, Pb 40/26):
“As our Friends know, the Polish leadership has introduced martial law, declared the formation of a Military Council for National Salvation, and isolated the most extremist elements from Solidarity, the Confederation of Independent Poland, and other anti-socialist groups.
“W. Jaruzelski’s Appeal to the Nation which, in our view, gave the right emphasis to the main issues, has made a good impression. And this is especially important, the leading role of the Polish United Workers Party, and the loyalty of the Polish People’s Republic to its treaty obligations under the Warsaw Pact have been confirmed.
“Polish comrades saw strict secrecy as the condition for the successful conduct of this operation. Only a narrow circle in the entourage of W. Jaruzelski knew about it. Thanks to this, our friends could catch the enemy off-guard and, so far, the operation is proceeding satisfactorily.
“On the very eve of the designated plan’s implementation W. Jaruzelski informed Moscow what would happen. He was told that the Soviet leadership regarded this decision by the Polish comrades with understanding. We proceed, moreover, from the position that the Polish friends will resolve these matters relying on their own forces.
“In our preliminary assessment, the actions of the Polish friends are an active step in repulsing the counter-revolution and in that sense follow the policies of the fraternal countries.”
In these conditions the question arose of political and moral support to the Polish comrades and of additional economic aid. The Soviet leadership, as in the past, will act on the Polish issue in contact with fraternal parties.”
This was, beyond doubt, a success for the Soviet regime but it certainly did not represent victory. Celebration was premature. Driven underground, Poland continued to resist and the Western reaction, though less sharp than in the case of an invasion, nevertheless strongly undermined the Kremlin’s position. Most important of all, perhaps, was that martial law did nothing to tackle the causes of the Polish crisis. The economic crisis, on the contrary, only intensified and became even more desperate. “Saved Poland” became an unbearable burden for the Soviet regime. It was at this very moment, curiously, that the Politburo began to comprehend the full hopelessness of its position (14 January 1982*, Pb).
BREZHNEV. Martial law in the Polish People’s Republic has already lasted a month. The first results are available. As Jaruzelski says, the counter-revolution is now crushed. The tasks ahead, however, are more complicated.
After introducing relative stability in the country, the Polish comrades must now resolve problems, one might say, of a strategic character – what to do with the trade unions, how to revive the economy, how to change the consciousness of the masses, etc.
The most important question is the situation within the PZPR. Our friends are trying to find a solution. No doubt, Jaruzelski does not intend to disband the party or to change its name, but he can exploit martial law to carry out a sweeping purge. This might yield good results.
In general, one gets the impression that the general as a political actor is very strong and is able, on most occasions, to find proper solutions. Sometimes it seems that he is too cautious and acts, more often than is necessary, with an eye to the West and the Church. But in the current situation head-on attacks can only ruin things. Along with firm, hard-line measures on matters of principle, one also needs flexibility and circumspection. It’s good that Jaruzelski is studying the Hungarian experience in struggling against counterrevolution.
All of us clearly understand that the decisive precondition for the full stabilization of things in Poland must be a revival of the economy. In Czechoslovakia after 1968 political efforts made headway precisely because the counterrevolution had not affected the economic sphere. In Poland, just the opposite is true.
In this context, we face a difficult question. We are already stretched to the limit in our capacity to help the Poles, and they are making still more requests. Perhaps we can do a bit more, but we certainly can’t give a lot more.
Still, we must of course answer Jaruzelski’s letter, explaining in a comradely way what we can and cannot do. We must precisely carry out our agreed deliveries in the first quarter, which for the Poles will be the most difficult winter months. …
Incidentally, the food situation in Poland is not so bad. There is enough bread in the country, and they must find a way to motivate the peasantry and to get them to work, arranging, as we used to say here, the alliance between the city and village.
The Polish leadership also continues to count on help from the West. Well, in principle we can’t be against that, although, to be honest, it’s doubtful that Western countries are about to start providing material assistance to a military regime. They undoubtedly will try to extract concessions, which means we must be especially vigilant.
Jaruzelski is raising another question, of whether he should accept help from the Chinese. Well, why not? In the process, China will disassociate itself from the USA and its economic sanctions.
In conclusion, one might say that the Polish question will be at the centre of international politics for a long time to come. That is why our Polish commission has continued to work as actively as it has been up to now.
The Politburo then voted on a proposal, drawn up by the USSR Council of Ministers, to support construction of a metro system in Warsaw.
BREZHNEV. … In the letter, as you see, Comrade Jaruzelski expresses deep gratitude for the fraternal aid the Soviet Union has provided to the Polish People’s Republic. At the same time, he appeals for the Soviet side to confirm the scale of supplies for 1982, which were contained in the draft minute on coordinating the plans of the two countries for oil, petrol and oil products. The supply of oil in 1982 will be maintained at 13 million tons; oil products at 2.94 million tons; and the maximum level of fuel supply will be assured for the first quarter of 1982.
Comrade Jaruzelski then says he has appealed to the general secretaries of the Central Committee s of the Hungarian, Bulgarian, Rumanian and Czechoslovakian Communist Parties to provide Poland with essential economic aid and, especially, to supply the domestic market with basic agricultural and industrial commodities.
We have returned more than once to the question of additional measures to support the Polish People’s Republic. I have raised this issue now simply as part of an exchange of opinions. Obviously, this time also we cannot refuse the Poles everything; we must have a look around and help them in some way. Therefore, I am asking comrades, on the one hand, to speed up the examination of these issues and present the relevant materials to the Politburo. On the other hand, I would ask that we try to resolve certain positions positively. […]
BAIBAKOV. I would like to raise two issues, Leonid Ilych. One, as concerns additional supplies of oil. I have very attentively examined all our oil reserves and it does not seem at all possible to find additional supplies of fuel for the Polish People’s Republic. It seems to me that we are supplying Poland with a sufficient quantity of oil products and they can get by with what we are providing.
The second issue concerns the supplies of grain for baking bread. Poland has grain. This year their harvest was not bad yet the [State] purchases of grain from a better harvest proved significantly lower than last year.
ANDROPOV. They are asking for a certain quantity of grain now, which they will return in the second quarter of this year.
SUSLOV. In other words, they are asking not for more grain but for a loan.
KIRILENKO. Of course, it is very difficult at present for them to get any quantity of grain from other countries although they have bought a certain amount in Canada.
BREZHNEV. If there are no objections we might adopt the following resolution:
Instruct the USSR Council of Ministers, USSR Gosplan and the Ministry for Foreign Trade to consider the requests laid out in Comrade Jaruzelski’s letter, bearing in mind the exchange of opinions at the session of the Politburo, and to make the relevant proposals to the CPSU Central Committee.
The resolution is adopted.
OF THE END
The Polish crisis was simply the first, graphic expression of the general economic collapse of socialism, a portent of their common future. In the final analysis, it was not Solidarity that caused the crisis. It was the incapacity of the system to provide Poland with the most basic goods and, as the Politburo would become ever more convinced, the incapacity of the entire socialist camp to meet the Poles’ needs, however temporarily. The Polish crisis merely exacerbated these problems by making them political. The question as to whether Poland would or would not remain under Soviet control could be crudely reduced to the success or failure of the USSR in providing Poland with enough oil, meat, grain, cotton and so on.
5.18 Where can we get 30,000 tons of meat?
To begin with the situation greatly irritated the Soviet leaders and prompted friction between those responsible for the economy and those in charge of politics, security and ideology. The reason lay not in a difference in convictions or because some were more dogmatic than others. While there were those at the Politburo who talked of political necessity, after meeting with a delegation from Poland, others were talking of economic realities (26 March 1981*, Pb).
ARKHIPOV. Regarding the economic situation in Poland, Comrade Jagielski [Polish deputy prime minister] informed us that the plan for 1981 will be some 20 percent lower than the plan for the preceding year, 1980. The Poles are having especially difficulties with coal production and their coal, as you know, is exported and is a means of earning hard currency. Instead of 180 million tons, as envisaged in the plan, they will at best produce 170 million tons. The production of meat is falling by 25 percent, and sugar by 1.5 times. Instead of 1.5 million tons of sugar, they’ll end up with 950,000 tons at the most.
Now it is being suggested in Poland that supplies of bread and flour must be rationed.
As concerns the financial situation, Poland’s debts, owed mainly to the capitalist countries, amount to 23 billion dollars, of which 9 billion were guaranteed by the States involved. The remaining credits were provided to the Poles by private banks. All told there are 400 banks involved. Our Polish friends faced a situation in which they must buy various goods abroad for roughly 9.5 billion dollars. All of this will be purchased on credit. Exports will only come to a total of 8.5 billion. Western countries are doing all they can to put off a decision on whether to provide new credits to Poland. The Poles need to pay off 1.5 billion dollars now. This is mainly interest on their previous debts. They’re asking us to give them 700 million dollars. Of course, we can’t possibly come up with such a sum. We are currently providing Poland, without delay, with oil, natural gas, iron ore, etc.
During our conversation, the Polish friends asked whether they should impose a moratorium on further credits or join the International Monetary Fund and request additional credits from Western countries. Of course, in either case it will be a concession to the Western countries and will not provide any kind of boost to the economy. The Poles themselves are divided on this matter. They’re asking us to give them additional cotton and artificial fibre and we have decided to make a certain increase in those supplies.
Gromyko expressed a certain frustration with “the Polish comrades” who emphasized how acute the problem was with imported goods, because they now had no way of paying for these goods, while failing to appreciate that every scrap of cotton, all the iron and oil they received came from the Soviet Union. Somehow, they considered that issue “a trifle”.
ARKHIPOV. We are supplying 13 million tons of oil to Poland at 90 roubles a ton. Bearing in mind that the world price for a ton is 170 roubles, we are subsidizing the Poles at 80 roubles for every ton. We could have sold all this oil for hard currency, and our earnings would have been enormous.
The oil situation was getting worse and worse. It was the Soviet Union’s main source of hard currency, just as coal was for Poland. To help Poland out of its difficulties oil supplies had to be reduced to other East European countries. As Rusakov reported to the Politburo late in the year (29 October 1981*, Pb) the reaction from Soviet allies was pained.
RUSAKOV. During the negotiations, the leaders of the fraternal countries also raised economic issues. Chief among these was the reduction in supplies of energy sources, above all oil. Comrades Kadar, Gusak, and Zhivkov said that this would be difficult for them, but all of them reacted with understanding to our proposal and our request. They said they will find a way to cope with the situation and go along with what we proposed. To make it all quite clear, I asked each of the comrades the following question: Can I inform the Politburo that you agree with the point of view I expressed? The comrades replied, Yes, I could say that.
The conversation with Comrade Honecker turned out differently. He immediately said that such a reduction in the oil supply was unacceptable for the GDR. It would cause serious damage to the country’s economy and to the GDR as a whole. It would strike a heavy blow at the GDR’s economy, and they would find it very difficult to cope. He even declared that they could not accept it and requested a written response from Comrade Brezhnev to two letters they had sent. The issue proved to be very complex and essentially it was left unresolved. Comrade Honecker again referred to the fact that they are supplying us with bismuth and uranium, providing upkeep for the Group of [Soviet] Forces, and that matters are especially complicated for them because the Polish People’s Republic is not supplying the coal that we [East Germans] need. As a result, Honecker suggested, this would lead to a sharp decline in the living standards of the German population, and we [East Germans] don’t know how we should explain it. They will have to reconsider all their plans.
BREZHNEV. … As you know, we decided to reduce the supply of oil to our friends. All of them took it hard and Comrade Honecker, for example, as you can see, is awaiting a response to the letters he sent us. The others are not expecting a reply, but deep down, of course, they are hoping that we will somehow change our decision.
Perhaps at the next meeting with our friends it would be worthwhile to comment in some way on this issue and say we will be taking all measures needed to fulfil and over-fulfil the plan for oil, and hope to be successful. In that way, we could adjust the planned deliveries of energy supplies without letting them think, of course, that we are backing away from our decision. …
Other Politburo members echoed Brezhnev’s concern about oil supplies and the reaction in Eastern Europe, especially the GDR.
ARKHIPOV. We have further difficulties with fuel. Our miners will deliver 30 million fewer tons of coal. How can we make up that shortfall? The oil industry is not going to exceed its plan, which means we’ll have to make up for these 30 million tons in some other way. Moreover, we have a shortfall of 1.5 million tons of sugar and will have to buy it, and we also need to buy 800,000 tons of vegetable oil, which we cannot do without for the time being.
As concerns the response to Comrade Honecker, I think the recommendation offered by Comrade Rusakov is correct. We must confirm that we cannot change the decision that was conveyed to Comrade Honecker. Regarding the deliveries of uranium to which Comrade Honecker referred, it does not solve the problem because it makes up only 20 percent of the total quantity we use. Comrade Honecker also fails to consider the nuclear power plants we are building for the GDR. This is a big undertaking.
RUSAKOV. I want to add that the Poles are requesting us to maintain the level of oil and gas supplies delivered this year.
ARKHIPOV. We are negotiating with the Poles about this, and we believe we should base our economic relations with them on the principle of balancing our plans. Of course, that will lead to a significant reduction in the delivery of oil since they are not supplying us with coal and other goods. If everything goes well, however, we will set the deliveries at the same volume they are now.
BAIBAKOV. All the socialist countries are now trying to test us, and looking to the GDR, and watching to see how we treat the GDR. If Honecker succeeds in breaching our resolve, then they, too, will try the same. In any event, no one has yet given a written response. I recently spoke with officials from the state planning agencies of all the socialist countries. All of them want to preserve the overall quantity of oil deliveries as planned for coming years. Some propose that other energy sources be substituted for oil.
The problems did not end with oil, on which the entire Soviet empire depended. Nothing could be simpler, it might seem, than meat. The whole commotion had begun in Poland because of meat and a year after the trouble started it would have been possible to tighten belts and flood the country with meat. But no, there was no meat to be had. In that vast totalitarian empire, the words of the leaders were law – but, try as it might, it could not produce 30,000 tons of meat.
BREZHNEV. Did we send to Poland the meat we decided on, and did we tell Jaruzelski about it?
RUSAKOV. We told Jaruzelski and he named a figure of 30,000 tons.
ARKHIPOV. We shall be sending the meat to Poland from our State reserves.
BREZHNEV. Have there been any improvements in meat supplies to the Union fund from the republics since my telegram?
ARKHIPOV. So far, Leonid Ilych, there have been no improvements in the supplies of meat. Not enough time has passed yet, it is true. I’ve discussed the matter with all the republics, however, and can report that measures are being taken everywhere to permit fulfilment of the planned deliveries of meat to the State. Such measures have been drawn up in Estonia, Belorussia, and Kazakhstan. So far, the Ukrainians have not issued instructions to the regions.
CHERNENKO. But we distributed our telegram to all the regions in Ukraine.
ARKHIPOV. We’ll have further data on Monday, and then we’ll report where matters stand.
GORBACHEV. Leonid Ilych, your telegram played a big role. Above all, the republics and the regions are all now seriously considering measures to ensure that the plan is fulfilled. In any event, according to information from telephone conversations with the regional committees, and the Central Committees of the republican Communist Parties, this issue is being discussed everywhere. On 1 January , we’ll provide a report on supplies of meat [to the State reserves].
BREZHNEV. Although we gave 30,000 tons of meat to Poland, I still think our meat will scarcely be of help to the Poles. In any event, it is still not clear what will happen with Poland in the future.
For several months thereafter the Politburo would continue discussing those 30,000 tons of meat. Sometimes it seemed they would be collected and despatched; at other times, not. Telegrams flew back and forth, officials bustled here and there; the telephone wires hummed with the obscenities of the bosses. But no meat appeared. What is 30,000 tons of meat, you may say, compared to world revolution? Even at market prices in the West it is unlikely that it cost more than 30 million dollars. The whole of Poland would not disappear over such a trifle.
However, three days before martial law was declared, the head of Gosplan Baibakov, who had just returned from Warsaw, reported to the Politburo (10 December 1981*, Pb):
“As you know, in accordance with a decision of the Politburo and at the request of the Polish comrades, we are providing them as aid 30,000 tons of meat. Of the 30,000 tons, 15,000 have already left the country. I should add that the produce, in this case meat, is being delivered [at the Polish end] in dirty, unsanitary rail wagons used to transport iron ore, and has a very unattractive appearance. When the produce is unloaded at Polish rail stations, blatant sabotage has been taking place. The Poles have been saying the rudest things about the Soviet Union and the Soviet people, and they are refusing to clean out the rail wagons, etc. One could not begin to list all the insults that have been directed against us.”
Jaruzelski’s new requests on the eve of martial law indeed looked, as Andropov put it, “insolent”. But wasn’t Poland worth it? Moscow would have given yet more without complaint if it only had something to give.
BAIBAKOV. … It must be said that the list of goods that they include as assistance from us to the Polish People’s Republic is made up of 350 items worth some 1.4 billion roubles. This includes such goods as 2 million tons of grain, 25,000 tons of meat, 625,000 tons of iron ore, and many other goods. Bearing in mind what we were intending to give Poland in 1982, the requests made by the Polish comrades means that our total assistance to the Polish People’s Republic will be approximately 4.4 billion roubles.
The time is now approaching for Poland to pay for its credits from West European countries. To do so Poland needs at least 2.8 million hard-currency roubles. When I listened to the Polish comrades saying what they are requesting and what sum this assistance represented, I suggested that we establish our economic relations on a balanced basis. Moreover, I noted that Polish industry is not fulfilling its plan, and to a quite substantial extent. The coal industry, the country’s main source of hard currency, has been disrupted: the necessary measures are not being taken and the strikes continue. Now, when there are no strikes, the level of output remains at a very low level.
Or, for example, let’s say that the peasants have grown something, there are grain, meat products, vegetables, etc. But they aren’t giving any of it to the State; they’re just playing a waiting game. At the private markets trade is quite brisk and at very inflated prices.
I told the Polish comrades that if such a situation has arisen they must adopt more decisive measures. Perhaps they can introduce something like requisitioning of farm produce.
If we speak, for example, about grain reserves, then this year Poland has accumulated 2 million tons. The population is not going hungry. City dwellers drive to the markets and the villages, buying up all the food they need. And the food is there.
… Sensing this situation with their balance of payments, the Poles want to impose a moratorium on the payment of their debts to Western countries. If they declare a moratorium, all Polish vessels in the waters of other States or in harbour, and all other Polish property in the countries to which Poland owes debts, will be seized. For this reason, the Poles have given instructions to the captains of ships to refrain from entering ports and to stay in neutral waters. …
RUSAKOV. Comrade Baibakov has correctly described the situation regarding the Polish economy. What, then, should we be doing now? It seems to me that we should deliver to Poland the goods provided for under the economic agreements, but that these deliveries should not exceed the quantity of goods we delivered in the first quarter of last year.
BREZHNEV. And are we able to give this much now?
BAIBAKOV. Leonid Ilych, it can be given only by drawing on State reserves or at the expense of deliveries to the internal market.
How much, then, did the Polish crisis cost the Soviet Union? It is not possible to add up all the costs but economic aid alone, including credits for the purchase of commodities and paying for Western loans, deferred payments and grants in aid, amounted to 2,934 billion dollars in 1980-1981. Every subsequent year, furthermore, would cost the Soviet regime much the same.
Four years later nothing had changed in Poland. The Politburo wracked its brains how to restore the leading role of the Polish United Workers Party and how to finally suppress “counter-revolution”. High-ranking Soviet delegations flew to Warsaw, where they gave valuable advice about “intensifying work among the masses”. Periodically Jaruzelski came on visits to Moscow, to ask for more aid. By 1984 even the most hardened member of the Politburo knew that the situation was hopeless. As one of them put it (25 April 1984): “We must bear in mind that Poland called itself a socialist country but was never socialist in the full meaning of the word.”
5.19 The world crisis of socialism
It seems unlikely that any of the Soviet leaders, however, could firmly say what it meant, to be socialist “in the full meaning of the word”, and yet less, which of the fraternal countries was such a State. Any member of the Politburo could without thinking declare, like a parrot, what it meant in theoretical terms. The practical aspect confused all the theories. One can only hazard a guess at what moment in history successive Soviet leaders realised that the “model” they had created did not work.
Lenin, one may suppose, realised this by 1921 when it became clear that no world socialist revolution would take place. With certainty, it can be said that Stalin became convinced of this fact in 1941 when he saw his empire crumbling before the blows of the German army. Khrushchev, perhaps, never gave such matters a moment’s thought until he was dismissed; the enforced idleness of his later years greatly helped him to see reality. As far as Brezhnev, Andropov, Gromyko, Chernenko, Ustinov, Suslov and the others are concerned, the Polish crisis was for them what 1941 had been for Stalin.
In fact, the early 1980s uncovered how rotten the system was. There was Afghanistan, on the one hand, and Poland, on the other; there was the growing hostility of the West and the failure of the campaign for disarmament and, in the very centre, the stagnating economy, mass dissatisfaction, technical backwardness, and the indestructible corruption of the bureaucracy. Taken together these all showed that the system was in crisis. After Poland, the Soviet leaders began to look at their own country with different eyes (24 October 1980, St 233/8).
“As instructed the departments of the CPSU Central Committee have analysed information reaching the Central Committee about misunderstandings and conflicts between workers and the administration at various enterprises, which have led in several cases to stoppages and other negative manifestations.
“We consider it essential to report that the number of such negative manifestations has increased somewhat recently and this prompts grave concern. Analysis shows that the overwhelming majority of these incidents are directly linked to violations of the established procedure for adjusting norms and pay, to incorrect extra levies and late payment of wages, especially bonuses; and to poor conditions of work and an inattentive attitude to the complaints of workers.”
This was a malevolent symptom although the strikes did not become widespread. As a rule, it was a question of local conflicts involving one workshop or shift, and most often the conflict was provoked by quite barefaced infringements by factory managers of labour legislation. There were about 300 such incidents in 1979. Events in Poland, however, clearly affected the mood among workers in the Soviet Union.
“It cannot be ignored that refusals to work have become more frequent during the past weeks. In several places, moreover, this refusal to carry out work tasks has not been limited to the collective of a single shift but has spread to those that followed and involved a considerable number of employees.”
Naturally, the trade union representatives were scolded and told to defend their members better. Yet how could that help if the Soviet trade unions, the factory administration and local Party authorities had long ago grown into a single bureaucratic apparatus responsible, before all else, for meeting plan targets? Furthermore, the strikes were in themselves only the culmination of growing dissatisfaction, which was not related to the labour dispute in question. First and foremost, there was the constant shortage of the most basic goods. It was fine for the Poles to strike over shortages of meat – Soviet workers could only dream of meat, and, as Chernenko told the Central Committee, even bread was in short supply (17 February 1981, St 250/9): “… from several places there are letters from citizens which state, sometimes in a sharp fashion, that there are temporary disruptions in the supply of bread and related products, that the range of bread and other confectionery has been reduced, and that they are of low quality.” How could one not expect workers to go on strike, Chernenko quoted one letter, if “their mood is negatively affected by disruptions in the supply of bread and, sometimes, it is not delivered for four days. The children rarely see white bread or buns. There is no flour on sale.”
Of course, he blamed the negligent local bosses and the peasants who, supposedly, were buying up the available bread to feed their privately-owned animals. Even Chernenko began to understand, however, that something was wrong with the system if only because this was a universal phenomenon. They changed the local bosses and, in some places, they began to ration bread and sell it only in exchange for coupons, checking names against lists. This might prevent its use as cattle feed but the amount of bread did not increase. What was the explanation?
Chernenko quoted another letter of complaint .
“The newspapers publish official reports that the regions have met their socialist obligations for grain sales to the State during the final year of the 10th Five-Year Plan. Yet for a second day running it is impossible in our workers’ town to buy a loaf of bread. By 2-3 pm the shelves in the shops are bare. Unhealthy rumours are circulating as a result.”
It was a mystery. The plan targets were over-fulfilled and tens of millions of tons of grain were also being bought in Canada and the USA but there was no bread. Simple negligence and carelessness could not explain the problem, especially when bread was only one example among many .
“It should be noted that in addition to reports of disruption in the provision of bread and certain other items of mass consumption complaints are being received from various regions about disruption in the provision of salt and vinegar.”
The shortage of salt was even more mysterious than the disappearance of bread. There were lakes of salt in Russia and there was no need to grow it: it was gathered by excavators and loaded into train wagons. What could be simpler? The Central Committee paid special attention to the disappearance of salt but never got to the bottom of it all. The letters department of the Central Committee reported (17 February 1981, St 250/10):
“Among the letters that the Party Central Committee receives from workers concerning the provision of food to the population, there are complaints with increasing frequency from certain parts of the country that it has become difficult to get hold of cooking salt, that few varieties are available and quality is low. A letter from Comrade X, in the town of Y, says: ‘Recently trade in our town has been in a constant fever. Moreover, it concerns items of everyday use. Not long ago there was no cooking salt on sale. This gives rise to every kind of incorrect suggestion.’
“’Salt is mined in our region,’ writes Comrade A from the town of B. ‘What then explains the long disruption in the supply of that food item? It’s reached the stage when the kids from the children’s home go from one apartment block to another begging for a pinch of salt. Naturally, these shortages affect our work and mood.’”
It is curious to note that the Central Committee did not learn about these problems from its own apparatus, nor from oversight agencies or even the omniscient KGB. It received the information from ordinary citizens. The infuriated Central Committee investigated, subjected the offending officials to “strict Party discipline” and even imprisoned some of them. Things did not improve. The local bosses simply began to keep a firmer grip, ensuring that complaints did not reach Moscow and those who complained persistently were shut away in psychiatric hospitals, put in prison or that their lives were made unbearable. The Party officials in charge of the economy, meanwhile, continued to report at every level that plan targets had been fulfilled and over-fulfilled. However hard the Central Committee struggled with the faking of such results it could not eliminate them. A special law was even added to the Criminal Code, providing three years’ imprisonment for such falsification. It made no difference. As a result, the Soviet leaders had no idea what the country was producing, in what quantities and of what quality…
By the early 1980s the corruption of the administrative apparatus had reached ominous proportions although the most severe punishments, including execution, had been in place since the time of Khrushchev. Now and again the most fantastic cases were uncovered. Entire branches of the economy were riddled with corruption and the scale of embezzlement reached hundreds of millions of roubles (4 January 1980, St 191/12). In the meantime, an extensive underground economy had come into being. There was a system of enterprises and lines of production that had no connection with the official State economy. The unquenchable private initiative always proved more flexible than the clumsy State machine (4 October 1980, St 231/9). It was not often exposed, however. As a rule, the local Party authorities had a share in these activities and even the KGB could not trace all the links. Entire regions, and sometimes republics, were run by this new “mafia” as if they were separate fiefdoms (the best-known example was the “Uzbek affair”, which was later scandalously exposed). Often, however, the trail led back to Moscow, to Brezhnev’s entourage, and the case was kept secret. As time passed it became increasingly difficult for the Soviet leaders to fight corruption, since the only instrument at their disposal, the Party administration of the economy, was at the same time the main source of corruption. It was a vicious circle. This process would later do much more than ethnic conflicts to facilitate the disintegration of the USSR. The break-up of the Soviet Union was chiefly caused by the break-up of the Party apparatus and local “nationalism” was merely a screen for the regional authorities. This found confirmation in 1992 when almost all the new States to emerge from the old Soviet Union found themselves under the power of the local Party nomenklatura.
As for nationalism and “ethnic conflicts”, they were an everyday and familiar problem. Neither through propaganda efforts to promote “friendship among the peoples” nor by repressive measures were they ever eliminated in the Soviet empire. By the 1980s the weakening control of Moscow over the local bureaucracy led to a marked intensification of this problem. As Andropov reported (30 December 1980*, St 243/8):
“Information received by the KGB shows that negative processes of a nationalist tendency have recently intensified among particular categories of the indigenous population of the Karachaevo-Cherkessk Autonomous Region [North Caucasus]. The number of crimes committed on this basis has increased. Among other causes, hostile elements from among persons of the older generation, who earlier engaged in armed struggle against the Soviet system, have influenced the character of these processes. Idealising the past and the outdated traditions and customs of their nation, they have been inciting in all possible ways a ‘grudge’ against the Soviet regime for its supposed ‘persecution of the Karachai’, and exploited to this end their deportation to Central Asia during the years of the Great Patriotic War [1941-1945]. …
“Similar feelings are to be found among the young and these often are expressed in open hostility towards Russians. This forms the basis for audacious delinquent acts, of rape and gang battles, which at times threaten to develop into mass disturbances. In 1979 alone the law-enforcement agencies in the region recorded 33 rapes of women of Russian and other non-local nationalities; over nine months of the present years there were 22 similar crimes, and 36 assaults. These acts are quite often accompanied by cynical declarations and cries, ‘… All Russians will suffer the same!” “Beat the Russians!”, “Leave our land!”, and so on.
“[…] There are numerous confirmed cases when leaders of Karachai nationality try by all means to get rid of employees of another nationality and draw their staff from relatives or other people who are close to them. These conditions give rise to frequently encountered abuse of official status and other negative social phenomena, creating a sense of impunity.”
Of course, the Central Committee ordered “an improvement in the organisational-Party and educational work among the population”. What else could it do?
It was an astonishing system.
They found it easier to occupy a neighbouring country, to suppress a national uprising – or, on the contrary, to provoke a revolution on the other side of the globe – than supply their own population with salt. Millions of Western idiots set out to overthrow their own governments on secret orders from Moscow, but the Soviet regime could not control its own bureaucracy. After 70 years in power they still had not learned how to manage the economy. Their capacity extended no further than issuing orders, instructing others to “intensify”, “raise” and “widen”, and then voting unanimously in favour of their own decisions.
If all these “expedient” measures did not produce the desired effect then they would look for someone to blame and “severely punish” them. By a sharp increase in prices, for instance (11 June 1979*, St 162/67).
“The secretariat of the CPSU Central Committee is informing you that a decision has been taken to raise retail prices (on average), from 1 July 1979 on:
“- items made of gold, by 50%;
“- items made of silver, by 95%;
“- items of natural fur, by 50%;
“- carpets and carpet products, by 50%;
“- automobiles for personal use, by 18%;
“- imported furniture, by 30 %.
“Simultaneously the Council of Ministers in the Union Republics, the USSR Ministry of Trade, and ministries and departments which run public eating places are instructed to raise the level of surcharges in restaurants, cafes and other comparable enterprises during evening hours by an average of 100%, and raise prices for beer sold in restaurants, cafes and other public eating places on average by 45%.
The CPSU Central Committee and the Soviet government had been forced to take these measures because of difficulties in balancing the growth in the population’s money income and the volume of goods and services of mass consumption. It was also essential to regulate the trade in goods in short supply and “intensify the battle with speculation and bribery”.
“As is well known, the demand for items made of gold and silver, for carpets, fur goods, cars and imported furniture is not being met despite earlier increases in prices. The trade in such goods leads to long queues, often with infringements of the rules of trade. Speculators and middlemen are using the situation to get rich and are bribing sales employees. In letters to the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers working people have sharply criticised these phenomena and asked that order be restored. The most effective way of resolving this problem is to increase the production and sale of goods in short supply. Considerable efforts are being made in that direction. For example, the production of carpets has risen from 30 to 67 cubic metres since 1970, or by 2.2 times. The sale of cars to population during the same period increased 9.5 times. However, the output of certain items is still not keeping up with demand and the market reserves for certain goods cannot be increased in the necessary quantities because of the shortage of hard currency (imported goods) or of natural resources (natural fur, items made of precious metals).
Therefore, price rises must be used as an undesirable but necessary measure to bring trade under control. To lessen the effect on the vital interests of working people prices are being raised only on items that are not necessities. Furthermore, it is envisaged that old prices will be retained for gold disks used in filling teeth and, by way of compensation for these prices rises, to raise the subsidy on wedding rings (up to 70 roubles per person) for those getting married for the first time. In raising prices for items made of natural fur the retail prices will remain unchanged for fur items for children and for items made of rabbit fur and sheepskin (except for fur coats). […]
“The announcement of price changes by the USSR State Committee for Price-Formation will be published in the press on 1 July 1979. Party committees should inform the Party’s activists in good time. They should keep a watch on the implementation of the measures to reconsider prices, and organise the necessary explanatory work among the population. If, as happened in the past, there occurs conjecture or rumours about extensive increase in retail prices these must be decisively halted. It is essential to provide directions to the activists and explain to the population that there will be no price rises apart from those made public in the statement by the State Committee for Prices.
“In view of the forthcoming changes in retail prices the CPSU Central Committee considers it essential, once again, to emphasis the exceptional importance of expanding in all possible ways the production of goods for mass consumption, securing the unconditional fulfilment of confirmed plans for their output and the increase in quality, the timely introduction of new capacity, the expansion of consumer service sector, and improvement in the organisation of trade.”
I don’t know what happened about the “expansion in all possible ways” of output. The forewarned “Party activists” rushed to buy up gold, fur goods, carpets and other goods in short supply. They immediately ensured that their own purchasing capacity was satisfied. Could it be otherwise?
Later, once the announcement was made, followed the entirely predictable speculation in gold disks for dental fillings and the remaking of fur coats for children into adult items. The Central Committee’s concern for the elderly, children and newly-weds is touching even. Yet surely they understood what unlimited possibilities their concern opened up for the abuse of power, and what favourable conditions were created for the black market?
This is only one, comparatively small, example of how incompatible a State run by the Party was with the economy.
So much has now been written about the Soviet economy that there is no need to discuss it here (I myself wrote on the subject in a previous book ). At heart the problem was simple. Either the Party or the market would control economic processes. Since these principles were incompatible there was no third way. If people’s wellbeing depended on their efforts at work, the demand for what they produced, and their career depended on their abilities there was no place for the Party. The alternative was to make all three dependent on people’s loyalty to the Party and on the links they had with their bosses. Then no place remained for economic development.
Some people did not want to acknowledge this, though the collapse of the Soviet economy provided incontrovertible confirmation. Some talked about the “Chinese model”. There was no “Chinese model”, of course: what they were referring to was a period of disintegration in the Party’s rule in that country. Thousands of Party officials were being shot in China for corruption each year. How could it be otherwise? The greater the influence of the market in people’s lives, the less power the Party wielded. Corruption was the only possible way for the Party to participate in the economic life of the country, it was the market expression of the Party’s power. Therefore, knowing almost nothing about China, I could firmly predict that its Communist system would disappear just as it did in the USSR and its satellites.
The Western intellectual “elite”, meanwhile, had no desire to acknowledge that the crisis of the Soviet system in the 1980s was above all a crisis of socialism. On the contrary, the leftist intelligentsia even took heart and pro-socialist forces went on the offensive after the Soviet collapse. The “bad” Soviet model had hindered them, you see, by casting them in the shadow of its totalitarian crimes. The time had now come for the “good” model of socialism. There were no such alternative “models”, however, merely differing scenarios of economic disintegration. You could ruin your country quickly and radically: you could do it slowly and irreversibly: in between those two poles lay a spectrum of possibilities. The expression “socialist economy” was, in fact, a contradiction in terms. The basic idea of socialism was the “just distribution” of what is produced. It was not concerned with its creation. Any model of socialism, therefore, worked towards depletion – it would “distribute” for as long as there was something to distribute. When all the wealth accumulated by the centuries had been “distributed”, and all those capable of producing a profit had been ruined in one way or another, then the depletion of natural resources would begin, and foreign debts would mount until a point of total bankruptcy was reached.
The Soviet “model of socialism” was radical. It took the principle of “distribution” to its logical limit. The State imposed centralised planning of both supply and demand. It managed to survive so long simply because Russia was an amazingly wealthy country. After 75 years of the most fantastic pillaging of its resources it was still incalculably rich in oil, gas, coal, metals, diamonds, timber … and who knows what else. Even the most negligent ruler could rule the country without a care or a crisis: it required an “idea” to reduce Russia to a state of economic collapse. That profound idea was socialism. It did not so much exhaust as bankrupt Russia, leaving it terribly backward in its development. The more “justly” incomes were distributed and the less competition there was, the less intensive production became and the less need there was for modernisation. The economy that came into existence on such a principle was extensive. It only grew through expanding across space, gobbling up disproportionately enormous resources. As a result, it proved incapable of intensifying the exploitation of those resources. By the 1960s it was running short of labour; in the 1970s arable land was in short supply; by the 1980s there was not enough fuel, energy and oil although these were available within the country. The system even proved incapable of efficient plundering of its own natural wealth.
Add to this the fantastic military expenditure (post-Soviet Russian data indicate that half the economy was devoted to the needs of the military), the growing costs of empire and foreign policy escapades, and it becomes clear that the collapse of the Soviet empire was only a matter of time. Knowing how far the entire book‑keeping of the Soviet Union was based on falsified figures, it is not serious to quote official Soviet statistics. Even that source began to send alarm signals by the early 1980s. No matter how cleverly the administrative apparatus tried to disguise the facts, economic growth and labour productivity fell to 0% while investments even began to give a negative return (by 1978 one invested rouble gave a profit of only 83 kopecks) .
In the West, meanwhile, the 1980s were the years of rapid economic growth, of the “conservative revolution”. For the first time in the post-war period there appeared politicians of a sharply anti-socialist persuasion (Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher) who made the dismantling of socialism their programme. A reduction in taxes and expenditure in the State sector, privatisation of enterprises and of entire branches of industry that had once been nationalised by the socialists, the dismantling of the system of social welfare, strict monetarism – together this led to an intensification of production and a growth in the economy. After these reforms, moreover, other countries had to follow, whether they liked it or not. Otherwise they faced the threat of being left behind. During those years, we may note, it was not only the Soviet Union and its clients that went bankrupt: the same was true for all countries of a socialist orientation in Europe and the Third World. Even in countries where the socialists were in power they had to abandon their traditional policies and follow the example of the hated Thatcher.
It is curious that despite the furious, simply pathological hatred of the intelligentsia, people in the United States and the United Kingdom stubbornly voted for Reagan and Thatcher, although their reforms did not by any means proceed smoothly. Ordinary people understood that these changes were in their interests because they freed them from the power of the “distributive elite” and from the egalitarian efforts of the State. Socialism was an idea had come to an end. It no longer attracted even the unemployed.
The intelligentsia, correspondingly, also began to lose its dominant influence over the way people thought. Apart from a general change in mood and the discrediting of the intellectual elite this was in no small measure aided by the explosion in communication technology, especially the appearance of cable and satellite TV, and of private television and radio stations. If the Left elite could still exercise control over 3-4 television channels (especially those run by the State), the appearance of hundreds of commercial channels rendered impossible their ideological control over information. And where else did the strength of the intelligentsia lie, if not in its ability to manipulate public opinion?
Perhaps this sounds paradoxical but it cannot be disputed that the conservative revolution expanded democracy, giving the lower classes more freedom of choice and, therefore, greater power. Of course, there were negative aspects and costs. For example, a direct consequence of the commercialisation of life was the decline in culture and even its bankruptcy. This was sad, it cannot be denied, but those who were the transmitters of culture had no one to blame but themselves, they had been too deceitful and egotistic. This decline in culture and its transmitters was accompanied by a loss of power by its inevitable parasite – left-wing utopianism, the ersatz religion of the intelligentsia. It has not yet finally died. For the time being it is in its death-throes, and has degenerated into the most absurd forms, such as feminism or the ecology movement. It will still do a great deal of harm to people but it has no place in the 21st century, just as no place remained for socialism at the end of the 20th century. It seems that a period in our history, when the elite ruled, has come to an end. For the same has happened in the sphere of ideas, culture and information as happened in the economy: the dictatorship of the producer has been replaced by the dictatorship of the consumer.
These changes, it hardly needs saying, sounded a funeral bell for the Soviet leaders. Their clients went bankrupt, their like-minded allies lost their influence, and world development, as if deriding Marx, led to the crisis of socialism instead of the crisis of capitalism. Even technical progress changed from an ally into an enemy of their system. As if they had not had enough trouble jamming Western radio stations, there now appeared a serious threat of direct transmission of satellite television. The spread of video players created a new kind of “ideological diversion”, the smuggling of cassettes with Western films (19 April 1982, 782-A). For the whole world the appearance of personal computers was a step forward – except in the Soviet Union where they presented the regime with a new headache. How could they halt the flood of information from the outside world? Halting the circulation of samizdat became even more difficult. It was impossible to stop progress. I remember heated discussions in the Soviet press, sometime in 1985-1986, as to whether Soviet man needed his own personal computer. The ideologists were against the idea; the military were in favour. Contemporary military equipment is all based on computer guidance, they argued, but if Western conscripts used them from childhood, that was not true of Soviet conscripts. The military won.
The threat of lagging behind in military terms arose in the 1980s a consequence of Reagan’s rearmament programmes and it was the main argument for the necessity of reform. Nothing else would have forced the Soviet leaders to have the courage to embark on reforms than the threat of losing the USSR’s status as a super-power and, therefore, their influence in the world. This threat principally arose thanks to the very nature of socialism: its economy could not match its global ambitions. By joining in an “arms race” with their wheezing economy they totally overreached themselves. Only when nothing else remained, and it was inevitable that they would perish, did they decide in desperation to “reform”. As I wrote in my 1982 brochure :
“Once you are riding a tiger, it is difficult to jump off. Any attempt at internal liberalization might prove fatal. If the central power were to weaken, the sheer amount of hatred accumulated within the population for these sixty-five years of the socialist experiment would be so dangerous, the results of any reform so unpredictable—and, above all, the power, the fabulous privileges, the very physical survival of the ruling clique would become so tenuous—that one would be mad to expect the Soviet leaders to play with liberal ideas. Only the imminent threat of total collapse might force them to introduce internal reforms.”
This fact is indisputable. Former Soviet leaders, those who worked in the apparatus of the Central Committee and KGB, leading economists and generals, openly acknowledge this now . It will never be admitted by the Western establishment, however, for it would be much the same as political suicide for them to admit that the arms race which they hated and cursed led to the complete removal of the threat of world war, of global confrontation and of the very division of the world into two hostile camps.
The outcome has been paradoxical. Formerly information passing from West to East was blocked by all possible means. Today information from the East to the West is obstructed just as zealously. Russian books, articles and newspaper reports that confirm the above interpretation are not published in the West. Alexander Bessmertnykh, the last Soviet foreign minister, publicly stated that Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (“Star Wars”) hastened the end of the USSR. Yet that comment, made in the United States at Princeton University, was not taken up by a single American newspaper . Yet what a sensation there was, what cries of outrage in the American press, when the programme was proposed! The scientific establishment declared a boycott of any development of the programme and the few non-conformist scientists who did agree to take part were ostracised by their colleagues. Now there is silence. The “free” press does not say a word, the scientific community acts as though nothing had happened. The establishment remains the establishment and the non-conformists remain renegades. If there was any sense to the Nobel Peace Prize it should now be awarded to those who thought up the Strategic Defence Initiative and did not fear to participate in it. But no, Nobel-Prize winners are the “concerned” doctors whose entire merits lie in the fact that, under the direction of the wise CPSU Central Committee, they scared the population with the horrors of nuclear war.
SDI was merely the most graphic and well-known example of President Reagan’s policies in the early 1980s. Peter Schweizer’s Victory (1994)  allowed us a first glimpse of the strategic plans of those years and convinced us that the “arms race”, “Star wars” and the like were only part of an overall strategy that was quite consciously directed towards bankrupting the Soviet regime. There was also a campaign against Western financing for a Soviet gas pipeline to Europe; there was COCOM, the tightening of control over leaks of scientific and technical information to the East; there were financial measures to prevent the USSR obtaining Western credit. The same goal lay behind the massive aid to the Afghan mujahedeen, underground Solidarity in Poland, the Nicaraguan “Contras” and other anti-Communist movements throughout the world. Apart from its purely moral or political considerations, the Reagan Doctrine (as it was then called) was aimed at making the “cost of empire” too high for the USSR.
The arms race unleashed by the Reagan administration deliberately focused on weapons that required an ever-increasing level of technology, i.e. those areas where Soviet backwardness was especially woeful. SDI was simply the culmination of this process, its most graphic expression or symbol, if you like. No one could say with confidence whether the programme was possible from a purely technical point of view. Both sides, the USA and the Soviet Union, dug in their heels, however, understanding perfectly well that if the USA began this initiative then the USSR would have to join in this race which was beyond its strength.
Finally, the most important aspect of this undeclared economic war (at least, from my view) was American manipulation of the oil market through Saudi Arabia. Oil and natural gas were the economic foundation of the Soviet empire and its main source of hard currency. Problems with their production began in the USSR, evidently, by the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s the fall in output became very noticeable . The reasons were purely internal. There was insufficient investment in infrastructure and equipment while increased rates of extraction led to a drop in the output of Soviet oil fields, especially in Tyumen. The catastrophe, however, occurred in 1985-86, when a sharp fall in Soviet oil production coincided with a no less sharp fall in world oil prices. Within the space of a year the Soviet Union lost more than a third of its income in hard currency, a shock that a thoroughly healthy economy in a flourishing Western country would not have survived.
As the title of Schweizer’s book suggests this was no coincidence , but the result of the lengthy and determined efforts of the Reagan administration. In 1983, the US Treasury was already presenting a report to the US President which recommended that it secure a drop in world prices : a reduction in oil prices on international markets to 20 dollars a barrel could lessen the USA’s energy costs by 71.5 billion dollars a year. This would be net income for the American consumer and is the equivalent of 1% of existing gross national product.
A reduction in oil prices would lead either to a fall in demand (which is most unlikely) or to a fantastic rise in production. Bearing in mind this last circumstance, the report noted that if Saudi Arabia and other countries
“with available oil reserves should step up their production and increase world supplies … by approximately 2.7 to 5.4 million barrels a day and cause the world price to fall by almost 40%, the overall effect on the United States would be very beneficial.”
For Moscow, this would be devastating. The report noted
“Moscow’s heavy reliance on energy exports for hard currency. By Treasury Department calculations, every one dollar rise in the price of oil meant approximately $500 million to $1 billion extra in hard currency for the Kremlin. But the reverse was also true: dropping prices meant plunging incomes. And Moscow, unlike other producers, could not raise production to increase earnings.”
Throughout subsequent years it was the task of the Reagan administration to convince the Saudi Arabia ns to do just that – sharply increase production and lower the price to the necessary level. The intense lobbying of the Saudi royal family included such measures as strengthening their defence by selling them the latest military equipment (often even against the will of Congress); American guarantees of security; and economic privileges. The Saudis, it must be said, did not put up much of a resistance. Boosting production was in their interests. It filled their treasury, helped their friends and ruined their enemies – Iran, Libya and the USSR .
“August 1985. The Soviet economy has been wounded to its very heart. … From the very first month of the Saudi surge the daily production of oil leap from less than a million barrels to almost six million.
“For the United States the expected drop in oil prices was an enormous blessing. For the Kremlin any drop in oil prices threatened to damage the economy. 1985, however, brought catastrophe. Soviet reserves of hard currency were reduced to a minimum. The State had to double its sales of gold to keep its hard-currency reserves at the required level. Energy resources were the main driving force of the Soviet machine for generating hard currency (they accounted for almost 80% of the total) and nothing else was more important for the health of the economy. … Almost immediately after Saudi oil production increased the price of oil on the world market sank with the rapidity of a stone tossed into a pond. In November 1985, a barrel of crude oil went for 30 dollars. Approximately five months later it already cost 12 dollars a barrel. In an instant Moscow lost more than 10 billion dollars, almost half of the earnings provided by oil.”
This blow, from which the Soviet economy never recovered, fell at the most awkward moment. The opening phase of Gorbachev’s “reforms”, what was termed acceleration, the intensification of production through purchases abroad and the introduction of new equipment, had counted on these oil revenues. Only such a massive programme of modernisation could help the Soviet leaders preserve the country’s super-power status, cope with the arms race and the growing costs of empire, and save the USSR from the “Polish disease”. In an instant, the economic collapse turned them into “reformers”, “liberals” and “democrats”. They had wanted something like the New Economic Policy of Lenin in 1921, Stalin’s alliance with the West in 1941, or Brezhnev’s détente in the 1970s. They urgently needed a breathing space in the Cold War otherwise they could not secure Western credits or technology. And they needed the help of their old allies – the left-wing establishment in the USA, the European “Mensheviks” – in order to achieve all this and, yet again, force the West to believe in the sudden metamorphosis of the Soviet regime.
The regime’s Western “friends” also desperately needed the regime’s “reforms” and the new “liberal image” of the USSR. However much they talked about “bad” and “good” models of socialism, the collapse of socialism in the East was a catastrophe for them, since it unmasked their treacherous role in humanity’s struggle for half a century against the threat of totalitarian slavery. Just as the crushing of Nazi Germany exposed the “peace-makers” and collaborationists of that era, the collapse of the Soviet Union destroyed all the cunning self-justification of its apologists and fellow-travellers, and all the “moderate” and “sensible” right-minded theories.
If it took only a most insignificant effort to defeat the regime, that meant there had been no need to “coexist” with evil. If the regime could be defeated without firing a single shot, that meant there had been no need for the “struggle for peace”, disarmament and “mutual understanding”. All it took to make the system crumble was to cast aside demagogy and begin to resist in earnest. If this was all true, then why was it not done twenty years earlier? How many countries could then have been saved from ruin, how many millions of human lives would have been spared, and how many misfortunes might have been avoided!
Those circles in the West which would have faced these unpleasant questions were not at all enraptured by the prospect. For them, as for the Soviet leaders, there was only one solution. The total collapse of the Communist regime could not be permitted to occur. How else can we explain the absurd events of the subsequent five years (1985-1990), when all could see that Communism was in its death throes and yet the entire world tried to extend its life? The apparent absurdity of the “Gorbomania” whipped up by the press, the mass euphoria about “glasnost and perestroika” and the billions of credits were by no means a matter of stupidity or naïveté but a thoroughly well-though-out campaign. As a result, something almost impossible was achieved. A criminal regime that had terrified the entire planet for more than half a century and had plunged entire nations in bloodbaths vanished without trace – but those who had served the regime, in the East and in the West, remained in power.
Without doubt, the regime was doomed. It did not survive the end of the 20th century because its main idea was absurd, unnatural and “intellectual”. Nevertheless, it crumbled because of those who challenged it and refused to submit to its orders, whether in the hills of Afghanistan or in the US White House, whether on the docks in Gdansk or in the Vatican, in the jungles of Africa or Soviet prisons. It was thanks, in the final analysis, to ordinary people who rejected the rotten “elite” in the East and in the West.
Since they remained in power, however, this simple truth was not universally recognised. The archives were hidden away, the history was falsified. General Jaruzelski would pose as the saviour of the Fatherland, Soviet leaders who had supported terrorists received the Nobel Prize, and the war criminals who plunged Afghanistan into bloodshed would command the new Russia’s armies. Most of all, they would support the “Gorbachev Myth” of the “heroic reformers” of the Kremlin who had saved humanity from themselves. It was like the legend of good King Louis XVI who rid France of the monarchy…
 “Peace and the East”, New Society, 2 June 1983.
 4 October 1980 (St 231-5), p. 5, mentions a Central Committee decree of 10 April 1979.
 See 15 January 1981 (St 246/17).
 On 19 March 1981 activists of Rural Solidarity were beaten up by the police in Bydgoszcz. Widespread indignation led to a nationwide four-hour strike on 28 March in which 13 million took part.
 4 October 1980 (St 231/5).
 17 February 1981 (St 250/9), pp. 4-5.
 17 February 1981 (St 250/9), p. 10.
 Vladimir Bukovsky, The USSR – from Utopia to Disaster, published in France (1990), in Germany and Italy (1991), and in Mexico (1992).
 Vladimir Yegorov, Out of a dead-end into the Unknown: Notes on Gorbachev’s perestroika, Q editions.
 “The Peace Movement and the Soviet Union” (1982), https://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/the-peace-movement-the-soviet-union/
 Yevgeny Novikov and Patrick Bascio, Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Communist Party, Peter Lang: New York, 1994, pp 66, 125-126.
 Alexander Bessmertnykh, “Retrospective on the End of the Cold War”, a conference held at Princeton University, 23 February 1993.
 Peter Schweizer, Victory. The Reagan administration’s secret strategy that hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union, Atlantic Monthly Press: New York, 1994.
 20 April 1978 (Pb 101/VII)^; 22 June 1979 (St 164/60)^.
 Schweizer (1994). The Saudi oil weapon: pp. 140-144, 154-155, 179-181, 189-190, 203-205, 217-220, 232-233, 237-238, and 242-243.
 Schweizer (1994), pp 141-142.
 Schweizer (1994), pp 242-243.