THE UNPLANNED SOCIETY - Reviews
vol. 21, No. 4. (Nov., 1994), pp. 1119-1120.
THE UNPLANNED SOCIETY: Poland during and after Communism. Janine R. Wedel, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, viii + 271 pp., notes, index.
John Borneman, Cornell University
In her introduction to The Unplanned Society, Wedel restates a central thesis that she had made in her initial book on Poland, "that Polish society has long been organized by a complex system of informal relationships involving such forms as personalized patron-client contacts, lateral networks, and social circles" (p. 12). Thus, she chastises Sovietologists and other social scientists (primarily sociologists) for ignoring "social processes and informal institutions," which, she argues, mediate the change one sees in "visible economic structures and institutions" (p. 19). Concentration on formal political and economic institutions, as we know, left scholars of Eastern Europe unable to predict the changes in 1989 and to account for the radical transformations that have accompanied the end of the Cold War in all formerly state socialist countries. Wedel writes that all along, "quiet initiatives, unheralded in Western headlines, were altering at least some spheres of Polish society" (p. 11). The other essays in this volume are by Polish authors, and most address these "quiet initiatives."
Wedel has edited these essays and written short, succinct introductions to each of the five topics they address. Part 1 includes an essay on Polish economic psychology written in 1945 by Kazimierz Wyka. Wyka analyzes the psychological effects of the Nazi Occupation on Polish economic behavior, outlining the "social distortions" in the various classes that have resulted. The second essay, by Ilona Morzol and Michal Ogorek, deals with the shadow justice system that developed in the postwar period.
Part 2 includes three essays, by Wojciech Pawlik, Elzbieta Firlit and Jerzy Chlopeacki, and Joanna Smigielska, all of which describe various aspects of informal trading (some might call it smuggling) in the postwar period, as well as interactions with the state, which had guaranteed employment, subsidized health care and housing, and provided for retirement. These essays give the reader a sense of the problems one can expect with a drying up of informal trading and with the elimination of many of the social welfare state provisions as the economy becomes privatized.
Part 3 focuses more narrowly on the transition to a market economy with essays by Stefan Kawalec and Piotr Glinski. Both essays look at some of the current conflicts between the old nomenklatura and the new elites drawn from Solidarity activists. Some of the new business elites, they point out, are very dependent on either nomenklatura circles or state intervention to secure and subsidize the privileges that they can now openly enjoy and display. Glinski argues that the success of economic reforms depends on "which type of entrepreneur emerges as a major player" (p. 151 ).
Part 4, entitled "Reclaiming Responsibility," with essays by Barbara Lewenstein and Malgorzata Melchio, and Jacek Kurczweski, focuses on the influence of martial law in the 1980s on individual initiative and "civil society," and on the growth in voluntary organizations, specifically with respect to Solidarity, and its aftermath. The final section, entitled "Pontiffs, Reds, and Rebels," includes eight essays on the church, the "opposition," and the Communist Party-the three main social groups prior to 1989. The authors include Adam Szostkiewicz, Teresa Holowka, Kazimierz Jancarz, Andrzej Kloczowski, Piotr Szwajcer, Wojciech Arkuszewski, Tadeusz Wrbblewski, and Antoni Sulek. Though the three groups described were certainly crucial in the 1980s, as the various authors show, the sketches here serve more to provide historical background than to indicate future directions and refigurations.
Many of the weaknesses in this collection can be attributed to the early date in "the transition" period in which they were written. The essays are nonetheless valuable as a set of historical documents, outlining various positions at the beginning of a dynamic period in Polish history. Yet I would fault the volume on its own terms for not critically examining Solidarity and for totally ignoring the gendered aspects of Cold War Poland. Moreover, the new elites hinted at in some of the essays have, since this publication, clearly established themselves in certain industries. With all the attention paid to the "informal" contacts and nomenklatura, I missed some indication of where, and in what domains, these old networks would reassert themselves. It is my understanding that Warsaw and Berlin have become centers for smuggling and for the laundering of wealth coming from the collapse of the Communist world. This wealth consists primarily of stolen army reserves, weapons, and drugs, most of which are linked to the departing Soviet army, but also to reserves in the former Soviet republics and in the rest of Eastern Europe. Highly lucrative transnational domestic theft rings have constituted themselves as mafia at this highly volatile moment when old states have lost their authority and new ones are unable to cope with the fluidity of borders and the massive movement of peoples. Wealth from these sources is, of course, vastly disproportionate to the capital small entrepreneurs bring into the economy. It has a direct influence on the structuring of social classes, and it directly subverts the democratic processes in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It should be a priority in anthropological study to determine how these movements affect the social fabric of various countries in Eastern Europe.