Czeslaw Bobrowski, veteran economist, created Poland's central planning office in 1945 and watched it grow into the huge bureaucratic structure behind which successive Warsaw regimes hid before collapsing.
Now, the 78-year-old wizard, summoned from his garden and retirement to counsel Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski on a high-priority industrial reform, ruefully concedes that the first round of battle against the entrenched central planning apparatus--which he calls "not my favorite child"--has not won much ground.
"Last year I predicted the reform would be successful in three years," he said. "I still believe that, though I've slipped the starting date ahead one year to now."
If 1982 was the year of the stick in Poland under martial law, 1983 is one for endless tables and graphs charting a much-heralded, though often contradictory, push by Jaruzelski's government to transfer more decision-making powers to factory managers and, in time perhaps, to workers' councils. In East European shorthand, it is a move away from the Soviet model toward the Hungarian.
So far, though, the most tangible result of all this activity has been a runaway inflation threatening Poland's already shaky prospects for recovery.
The absence of encouraging results in the reform's first year is playing to the advantage of middle-level bureaucrats, who resent the changes, and of Communist hard-liners, who say that what Poland really needs to get out of crisis is an even more concentrated central control of the economy.
Western banks and governments, with $26 billion still locked up in Poland, are watching closely whether these forces propel Jaruzelski to retreat. Progress in shaping Poland's economic management could encourage the West to lift its sanctions, which Warsaw officials bitterly complain are crippling the reform.
A worse time for the painful restructuring would have been hard to find. Poland's economy, starved of western imports as a result of the sanctions and a credit crunch, lacks enough consumer goods to reward higher productivity and enough industrial goods to make higher production possible.
Compounding this is the essentially political problem of weak interest in the new trade unions by millions of Polish workers resentful of the crushing of the independent trade union Solidarity.
Jaruzelski concedes the timing is poor. "Figuratively speaking," he told a Communist Party meeting last month, "our reform is a 'prematurely born child' with all its peculiar weaknesses. But in its principles it is right and effective."
Advocates of the reform argue that greater decentralization of the economy provides Poland's only alternative to collapse--and Jaruzelski's as well. "Jaruzelski cannot lose the reform," Bobrowski said. "His fate is connected to it."
This is the third time in three decades that a Polish government has set out to lift the dead hand of detailed central direction from enterprises. The past two efforts got nowhere.
Wladyslaw Gomulka, after taking charge of the Polish Communist Party in 1956 on a wave of worker unrest, created a council of economic advisers (Bobrowski was vice chairman) to draft a reform that was never tried. In the early 1970s, party chief Edward Gierek considered a limited decentralization plan based on the creation of large business organizations.
The current drive grew out of discussions in the 1980-81 Solidarity period that produced the most radical ideas yet for restructuring. What eventually passed into law, though, has disappointed Poland's more progressive thinkers.
Instead of attacking and altering the bureaucratic agencies that have managed the system up to now, the reform is focused on individual enterprises.
In theory, firms have more freedom to set production targets and prices, and democratically elected workers' councils are eventually supposed to have a major say in choosing factory managers. But in practice, government ministries still are interfering heavily in the process.
Jaruzelski's aides attribute this interference more to some ministers' impatience with current industrial performance than to any challenge to the reform.
"There is undoubtedly impatience with the results brought by the reform," Bazyli Samojlik, a senior economic adviser to Jaruzelski, said in an interview.
Others outside the government contend that the problem is more basic, resting in the limitations of the reform itself. "The focus of the reform has been to change the behavior of the enterprises without changing the institutional environment around them," said Leszek Balcerowicz, ex-vice chairman of the Polish Association of Economists and leader of a team that presented a more radical reform program in 1981. "The enterprises are thus never really autonomous."
"We do not have economic reform," he said. "We have some partial changes in the system, which are positive, but these cannot have a deep or lasting effect."
Contradictions started appearing the moment the reform was formally launched, under martial-law conditions, at the beginning of 1982. Jaruzelski's assumption of dictatorial powers to run the country contrasted sharply with the notion of economic decentralization.
Seeming to strengthen, not weaken, the command mechanisms of the economy, 14 special "operational programs" were introduced last year, binding firms to provide key goods in short supply. According to Samojlik, these programs covered about 50 percent of all products.
The number of items on the list of officially regulated or fixed prices was also expanded to include 60 percent of all goods sold, and a bureaucracy of 264,000 people sprouted to administer rationing.
To spur initiative and competition, authorities dissolved the old, cartel-like industrial associations. But new "voluntary" associations sprang up, consisting of the same people performing much the same central coordinating tasks.
Officials readily acknowledge such anarchy and inconsistencies in the reform process but say this has been only natural in view of the depth of old business habits and the weakness of the economy.
"The government could not withdraw to a position of passive observer all at once," Samojlik said. "There was an effort to protect . . . consumer groups."
In the next phase this year, the number of centrally run operational programs is being reduced from 14 to six and replaced by a system of less intrusive government contracts with industry. A gradual lifting of rationing has been announced. So have plans for a new trust-busting law to crack the cartel behavior of the industrial associations.
But the whole reform could well be wrecked unless the astounding increases in wages and prices of recent months are brought into line.
The inflation is traced first to a big jump in personal incomes, up 63 percent last year. Companies took advantage of their new freedom to raise workers' wages, boosting them 50 percent on the average, and the government added sizable new social payments on top of that.
But, facing a chronic shortage of major consumer goods, this fresh money found its main outlet in the black market.
To vacuum up the overabundance of zlotys, the government hiked prices an average 200 percent last year, and hefty markups are continuing this year, though mostly on nonstaple and luxury goods.
Bearing down on the problem, authorities this week unveiled a rigorous antiinflation program in parliament. It includes higher taxes, reduced state spending and higher interest rates.
A lasting cure for inflation, though, won't come until production revives and pours new goods on the market. A three-year production plan introduced this month calls for the value of commodities and services to rise 24 percent by 1985 by improving productivity and making better use of existing factories, now running at about 60 percent capacity.
Officials claim that industrial output reversed its three-year decline last August, though still ending the year 2 percent down from 1981.
Figures so far this year show still halting performance. Industrial production last month was 9 percent higher than in February 1982 but nearly 7 percent lower than in January of this year. This was blamed on a reduction of working days.
"What we have on our hands is one of the greatest catastrophes in world economic history," Deputy Treasury Minister Mieczyslaw Mieszczankowski said in an interview with a Warsaw paper this month. "Even if Poland has lifted itself a bit from this low level, the fact remains that Poland is still deep in crisis."