THE UNPLANNED SOCIETY - Reviews
New Series, Vol. 96, No. 1. (March, 1994), pp. 181-182.
THE UNPLANNED SOCIETY: Poland during and after Communism. Janine R. Wedel, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, 271 pp.
Maryjane Osa, University of Chicago
Janine Wedel has performed a welcome service for American social scientists by bringing together their Polish colleagues to collaborate on this edited volume. Wedel supervised the translations, wrote an introductory chapter, and provided informative notes for each of the selections. In her introduction, she reacts against monocausal explanations of political causes and outcomes. Wedel criticizes Cold War Sovietologists who treated East European countries as "satellites" of the Soviet Union; she also points out that the same reductionism is evident in their more recent predictions of singular outcomes such as the triumph of "civil society," "pluralism," or "market forces." Wedel argues forcefully that Sovietologists neglected "the ways that linkages within and among institution-and groups as influential as institutions-connect and transform them. Different kinds of linkages, responding to powerfully different contexts, facilitate different paths of development" (p. 2).
Wedel contends that the linkages among institutions and social circles, or środowiska, should be the focus of social scientific investigation. Wedel and her contributors reveal the textures, ambiguities, and complexities of Polish social organization and relate these to political and economic change. Her premise is that środowiska (multipurpose social cliques) are the social units that determine how society organizes in response to political and economic change. Thus, the continuities of these social networks are the key to shaping postcommunist politics.
The strongest part of the volume is connected thematically to the focal piece that begins the book, Kazimierz Wyka's 1945 article, "The Excluded Economy." Here Wyka examines German economic policy in Poland during World War 11. Involvement in an unpredictable and unreliable (corrupt) exchange system, he argues, shaped the longterm expectations and strategies of people. During the war Poles learned how to survive- despite the regulations. Wyka contends that distorted patterns of social exchange carried over to the postwar period; these reinforced a dissimulating social psychology and led to the continuity of survival strategies based on handel, semi-illegal or illegal trade. He worries that Poles did not learn "the most important lesson of the war: economic processes are woven into a nation's moral fabric" (p. 56). Wyka predicted that informal, frequently dishonest exchange patterns would have negative consequences, both for national self-understanding and for economic development.
Wyka's 1945 analysis and predictions set the stage effectively for Part 11, "Enterprising Inner Circles," and Part III, "The Nonmonetary Economy." These two sections contain substantive essays by Wojciech Pawlik, Elzbieta Firlit and Jerzy Chlopecki, Joanna Smigielska, Stefan Kawalec, and Piotr Glinski. Together they provide a nice ethnography of the underground economy during "communism" and an exploration of the social psychology of an exchange system based on "arranging things" (zalatwic cos). The authors show how informal "arrangements" provided the grease that allowed the so-called planned economy to creak along for so many years.
The connection to the Wyka article becomes attenuated in the latter half of the volume and the book loses its focus. The idea of środowiska is insufficient to anchor the shorter, more impressionistic essays that comprise Parts IV and V. The section on the church is particularly weak and presented out of context; it is not rich ethnographically, nor does it offer any theoretical understanding of the dynamics of religion and politics in Poland. The three pieces on the opposition by Piotr Szwajcer, Wojciech Arkuszewski, and Tadeusz Wroblewski (pseudonym) present views that have been less accessible to North American readers. They explore the rarely discussed "dis-unities" of Solidarity, touch on the sensitive underside of interparty hostilities, examine conflicts among oppositionists over Western money sources, and reveal the elitism of many opposition środowiska. The Sulek article on the demographics of the Polish United Workers Party (Communist Party) during the 1980s provides descriptive data that give the reader a feel for the ebb and flow of party membership and strength. It doesn't provide sufficient closure for the book, however. Although the Zeitgeist may still be working on communism's final chapter in Poland, we mortals could benefit from a conclusion to The Unplanned Society.