Polish Communist Party leaders today called for greater economic cooperation with the Soviet Union in order to offset the damage caused by American trade sanctions.
Members of the hard-line faction on the party's 200-man decision-making Central Committee appeared to be stepping up a campaign for faster economic integration with the Soviet Bloc. As a reason, they pointed to President Reagan's proclamation revoking "most favored nation" trading status for Poland in protest at the dissolution of the independent Solidarity trade union.
Reagan's most-favored-nation (MFN) proclamation was described by the official Polish news agency PAP as a "black document in the history of Polish-American relations." The PAP commentary said it was evidence of the Reagan administration's "hypocrisy and ill will" toward Poland.
In a recent interview, Polish Foreign Trade Minister Tadeusz Nestorowicz estimated that Poland stood to lose around $40 million a year as a result of the suspension of MFN -- provided present export levels were maintained. Poland was accorded MFN status in 1960, making it the first Soviet Bloc country to be so designated.
The damage inflicted appears relatively minor in comparison with Poland's other economic problems and huge hard-currency debts. But the issue has beeen seized upon by conservatives within the Communist Party apparatus as proof that the only solution to the economic crisis lies in cultivating even closer ties with the Soviet Bloc trading organization, COMECON.
The calls for greater economic integration were voiced most forcefully at the Central Committee meeting by Stanislaw Kociolek, the Polish ambassador to the Soviet Union who is widely identified with the hard-line faction. Describing cooperation with the Kremlin as of "key significance" for Poland's economic recovery, he said Soviet raw materials could be used to get Polish industry working again.
By placing such weight on the Soviet connection, Kociolek was in effect downgrading the importance of economic reform. His speech was thus markedly different in emphasis from the official line voiced repeatedly by Poland's military ruler, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who has insisted on thorough-going reform as the main solution to Poland's problems.
Since the imposition of martial law last December, the government has pushed ahead with legislation devolving decision-making power in industry from the central planners to factory managers and workers' councils. In practice, though, the results have been meager. Scarce resources and bureaucratic inertia have led to a situation in which many enterprises still rely on the old mechanisms of the command economy rather than taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the reform.
The obstacles in the way of reform were reflected in a report by the Politburo to the Central Committee which spoke of Poland's "unprecedented economic difficulties." It admitted bluntly that, in many factories, the concept of economic reform had "got no further than the manager's offices."
Speakers at the Central Committee meeting took heart from statistics released for August and September showing, for the first time in more than two years, a slight increase in industrial production. They acknowledged, however, that if the economy can be described as "stabilizing," it is only doing so at a catastrophically low level of production.
Long lines for food and consumer goods are gradually reappearing, and shortages are expected to get worse this winter. Rationing has been extended to cover most basic items from shoes and baby clothes to meat and gasoline.
If the food lines are less dramatic now than they were last year, the reason lies not in increased supplies but higher prices and the more extensive rationing system. The superficial impression that the shops are fuller is belied by the statistic that sales are down 17 percent from the same period last year when the newspapers were full of talk about "unprecedented shortages."