Catholic Social Thought and Socio-Economic and Political Transformation in Poland

By Spychalski, Gedymin | Review of Business, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Catholic Social Thought and Socio-Economic and Political Transformation in Poland


Spychalski, Gedymin, Review of Business


Introduction

As its title suggests, this paper will look at a perpetual problem in the social teaching of the Catholic Church: tension between the Church and competing political systems. This tension came to a head in Poland in the pivotal year of 1989 -- the key date in the transition from Socialism to Capitalism. It is worth remembering that two years earlier, Pope John Paul II placed his signature under the text of the Encyclical, "Sollicitudo rei Socialis," with the division of Europe still in two "blocs" of different thinking and acting. The source of inspiration for the "eastern" model was the Socialist traditions, in particular Marxism, while the "western" model was derived from the liberal and Capitalist traditions. (1)

While this period of "constitutional transformation" brought many political changes, the economy showed few signs of improvement. This critical situation intensified in many cases, causing a conflict between traditional attitudes and customs, and the tendencies and alms of the new ideology.

Naturally, the role of the Church was complicated in this period of two "clashing" worlds--when Socialism had not completely faded away and Capitalism had not yet sprung its roots. Even today, many Catholics accept the model of Capitalism, yet still apply "Socialist" solutions to Christian concepts.

To fully understand the position of the Church in this situation, this paper will first briefly review the complex socio-economic and political situation in Poland. Then, it will present the major principles in the social teaching of the Church and its evolution. Finally, it will comment on the position of the Church in Poland with regard to transformation.

Historical Background of the Polish Constitutional Transformation

After World War II, Poland found itself under the domain of the USSR. This caused two essential changes in the Polish institutional system. First, an authoritarian political system was set up, combining party and government's rules, with the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) as the centerpiece. Second, private ownership and markets were replaced with central planning and state ownership. The only known exception was farming, which remained predominantly private after forced collectivization was abandoned in the first half of 1950s.

The Polish centralized economy, like economies of the other Socialist countries, initially showed high rates of growth as a result of the

enthusiastic post-war recovery and high rate of investment Over time, however, the efficiency of these investments and the whole economy started systematically to decline. And it became increasingly apparent that the centralized economic system was not able to resolve more complex economic problems. The falling efficiency of investments was accompanied by attempts to compensate for these losses by raising the rate of investments even higher -- creating a vicious cycle. One result was another drop in the rate of growth of the national income, as well as a slow-down in the growth of consumption. The riots of the 1950s did not bring any improvement. By the end of that decade, in fact, consumption had come to a near standstill.

With the economy eroding, and a new series of riots brutally suppressed in Gdansk, 1970 saw the start of yet a new political leadership. The new party leader, Edward Gierek, promised higher living standards. As it turned out, the key to this higher standard of living was huge foreign loans that financed both higher consumption and new investments in foreign technology. Foreign loans proved to be excessive and the related investments ineffective, mainly because they were undertaken in a generally unchanged, centralized economic system. After a period of substantially increased national income and consumption from 1971 until 1978, Poland entered into an economic crisis with the constantly aggravating burden of a huge foreign debt.

In the course of this lingering crisis, the Polish social and economic system basically changed. …

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