When I read the headline in the UK journal Farming News in the Spring of 1989 – I felt a stab of pain in my heart. “Poland Up for Grabs” ran the headline story printed in bold across the front page of this widely distributed British farming journal. Although at the time I had never been to Poland, or thought a great deal about this country, the effect that this headline had was quite startling.
I clearly saw thousands of traditional farms, active communities and countryside ways of life, being steam-rolled by greedy Western corporate agribusiness with its insatiable appetite for easy profit, new markets and neocolonial outreach. It seemed impossible that Poland would allow such a fate to overtake it, especially after expending so much heroic energy in ridding itself of decades of Communist oppression. But the headline was real enough and it surely would have sent a shiver down the spine of any Polish patriot.
That same Spring, events in the UK had already impacted heavily on my farming operations. In February 1989, the British government suddenly declared it was going to ban the sale of unpasteurised milk – my main farm business and a lifeline enterprise for many small traditional dairy farms. My only recourse was to start a national campaign to try to reverse this decision.
It turned out to be a fast and furious affair lasting just four months and ending in a victory for the producers and consumers of “real milk”. The government backed down, helped by strong media interest and the fact that Prime Minister Thatcher expressed “some sympathy” for my campaign against the ban. However, the government still contrived to put “a health warning” on the product, despite the fact that for decades no one had become seriously ill from consuming this living and highly nutritious food.
Poland, however, was facing a crisis on a whole other dimension. Almost ten years after the formation of the Solidarity Trade Union, the enormous popularity of Lech Walesa and his fellow Ghadansk shipyard mates had finally driven the Communists out of the country. The relatively moderate Gorbachev having realised that any further attempts at military suppression were only likely to add further fuel to the fire of rebellion sweeping the country. Suddenly ‘Solidarnosc’ had achieved its goal and, against great odds, not only dispelled its main oppressor, but won itself a victory in the first free elections as well.
As I was struggling to get my farming operations back on course after a hectic campaign to keep open the market for natural milk, Poles were celebrating worldwide acclaim for their victory over the Communist state party machine.
At this pivotal moment in history, events threw open an unprecedented opportunity for a brand new socio-economic vision to take shape amongst the downtrodden factories and industries that formed the foundation of the almost 100% State-owned Polish economy. The vision was of a workers cooperative that would take over and run the entire edifice of state manufacturing industry and thereby influence all aspects of the economic welfare of the nation.
The implications of this bottom-up grassroots takeover of the economic motor of the country were clearly enormous. Not only for Poland but for the rest of the World as well. The new model was called “The Third Way” and would depose the commanding position held by both communism and capitalism should it come to fruition.
The Third Way
I only heard about The Third Way when reading Naomi Klein’s famous book The Shock Doctrine very recently. Immediately, I understood that what was planned placed great responsibility on the shoulders of the Solidarity team negotiating the future of their country. The Third Way laid out a mould-breaking formula for the future which seemed likely to scare the pants off entrenched doctrines of both West and East. Not only because it did away with the old communist and capitalist models, but because it was lead by a workers union that had the full support of the people.
The first major hurdle faced by supporters of this vision was how to deal with the huge national debt left by the departing Communist regime — according to Naomi Klein, $40 billion and an inflation rate running at 600%. Unfortunately for Poland (and the rest of us), the realisation of The Third Way was to be undermined by an argument over how to pay off this debt – and by the intervention in the Solidarity committee of Jeffrey Sachs, the young US protege of the Chicago School of Economics led by Milton Friedman. Friedman’s already well-tested formula for dealing with this sort of crisis was 100% free market capitalism coupled to the privatisation and sale of State-controlled assets. Sachs, whose name had already been made through expounding this doctrine to a heavily economically indebted Bolivia, stood at the opposite end of the political and economic spectrum from Solidarity; yet was still able to swing the argument in favour of the essentially neo-liberal economic doctrine which continues to hold sway in much of the Western world today.
The possibility of a Third Way had first been aired back in 1981. In a paper laying out the plan, Solidarity pioneers stated, “We demand a self governing and democratic reform at every management level and a new socio-economic system combining the plan, self government and the market . . . The socialised enterprise should be the basic organizational unit of the economy. It should be controlled by the workers council representing the collective and should be operatively run by the director, appointed through competition and recalled by the council.”
The message was revolutionary enough to unnerve and infuriate Moscow, leading general Jaruzelski, chief of the Polish army, to send the tanks into the Ghadansk shipyard and declare a state of martial law in the country. That state was maintained until the final uprisings of 1989 and the victory of the Solidarity’s long-running opposition to the Soviet occupation.
By then, Geoffrey Sachs had succeeded in convincing enough of Solidarity’s leading members that only a massive loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would get the country out of trouble, and that by using his contacts he would personally be able to open the IMF door to unlock the needed funds. Many, it seems, were deeply perturbed by this proposal, but others saw no other way of paying off State debts. The resolution to this debacle was as profoundly significant as was the end of Communism: Poles had freed themselves from one great oppressor only to find the door being opened to another.
Sachs was true to his word and the IMF money was put on the table, but only at the price of a mass sell-off of State industries and the adoption of the sort of economic “free market” policies that remain the hallmark of US global hegemonic ambition – especially when coupled to IMF strategic asset stripping expertise. As the Red Army disappeared from view in the East, so the red, white and blue corporate army made its triumphal entry from the West. Tragically, amongst this hiatus, The Third Way was nowhere to be seen.
“Poland Up for Grabs” still haunts my mind. The Spring 1989 Farming News edition sporting this title remains embedded in my mind and I cannot help but reflect on its dark significance. Among others, UK corporate agriculture was quick to see the opening created by Sachs and his Chicago School of Economics. Former State farms needed new investors, and who better than the leading UK practitioners of agrichemical monocultures to take up the offer; soon to be followed by their continental rivals.
Polish soils were still relatively unblemished and fertility levels still well above Western levels. Here was a great chance to go all out to exploit this fertility and profit from the cheap labour still abundant in newly liberated Poland. British and continental soils were run down after years of high input/high output farming had drained natural nutrient and humus levels making most farmers dependent upon large volumes of toxic synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Sachs had now paved the way for a foreign mining of Polish soils; the profits of which would flow West, along with the relentless interest paid on the IMF loan.
The terrible truth about the widely acclaimed Solidarity victory, was that it was simultaneously an almost unbearable defeat for the forces of freedom. The new independence brought with it a new enslavement: the toxic economic and agricultural intervention of the West replaced the brutal politico military intervention of the East. “Freedom” had proved to be an illusion.
In the early 1990s a shell shocked nation could not easily recognize the true nature of its new masters. Shops filled with Western consumables; Coca Cola became ubiquitous as did McDonald’s. The first supermarkets started sprouting up in the big cities and Poles queued outside the American Embassy to get visas to “the land of liberty and freedom”. To the Poles who believed that “the grass is greener on the other side”, the new state of liberation may have looked like some kind of salvation, but to many others the reality belittled the promise that it may initially seemed to hold.
Unemployment in the cities started growing fast with wages failing to meet rising costs. In the countryside, the rural economy — which had been well cared for under Communism — imploded, as new regulations based on World Trade Organisation and Brussels EU directives forced the closure of thousands of small- and medium-sized food processing units, abattoirs and cottage industries. Enterprises that had mostly thrived during the occupation but now were deemed unsuitable for a country in line to become amongst the first Eastern European nations to join the European Union. Once-thriving villages with full employment became victims of aggressive competition formulas of the globalists: a few large centralised corporate manufacturing and processing units displacing thousands of small local enterprises run as cooperatives by resident families.
The Pot of Gold and the European Union
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As citizens struggled to adjust to this new way of life, Poland’s governing bodies became resigned to the next big promise: the”pot of gold” to be showered on the country upon achieving the socio-economic standards necessary to assure entry into the European Union. Once again “the money promise” was moving to center stage and the Polish nation was about to receive its next dose of Western medicine.
I first set foot on Polish soil at around this time. It was in the autumn of 2000 when Jadwiga Lopata invited me to become a co-founder of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside. In a packed farmhouse in the foothills of the Beskidi mountains of Southern Malopolska, the ICPPC was born and I was thrust into the center of a crucial arena of decision making concerning the future. My first thought was to try and ensure that Poland’s entry into the EU was properly negotiated and that the mass exodus from the land that had accompanied my country’s entry into the EU (as well as many other countries) would not be repeated in Poland. A few months later, a senior civil servant in Warsaw made it possible for Jadwiga Lopata and I to be invited to the European Commission to meet the negotiating team responsible for Poland’s agricultural and environmental entry into the EU.
What came out of this meeting was as shocking as anything that had preceded it. The chair lady of the committee informed us that Poland was to be stripped of at least one million small- and medium-sized farms in order to make way for the “restructuring and modernisation” of its time-tested traditional agricultural practices. This, it turned out, meant the end of mixed family farms and their replacement by large-scale agribusiness conglomerates that would make Polish agriculture “competitive on the world market”. The committee clearly saw industrial farming as the perfect remedy for Poland’s “peasant farming anachronism” and the chair lady declared that it was only a matter of time before such a transformation would be complete. Once again, the full force of global corporate “free market” economics as espoused by Friedman’s Chicago School was to make itself felt, only this time on the rich bio-diverse meadows of the Polish countryside.
Having this message hot in our minds, it seemed essential to put out an immediate alert and warn Polish parliamentarians of what was coming. At a press conference in the Polish parliament some days later, I was able to warn the people of Poland “Don’t Follow Us”. Don’t fall for “the pot of gold” which will only further enslave your nation to the ambitions of an unelected supranational foreign body based in Brussels. A cartel which had already caused great damage to my own country and whose high tech/low labour policies had already torn apart thousands of virtually self-sufficient communities throughout the continent of Europe.
Six months after warning the Polish parliament what was in store, the government fell, to be replaced by pro-EU, pro-globalization political party fully committed to Poland’s entry into the European Union by 2004. It was the signal for Poles to be fed an increasingly intense diet of pro-EU propaganda through the mainstream media, with much being made of “the pot of gold” which Brussels was to bestow upon the outstretched hands of this supposedly impoverished nation. The rest, as they say, is history.
However, it is a history thick with intrigue, deceit and brazen disinformation. Poland’s entry into the EU has not lifted the country out of financial indebtedness, nor has it improved the financial position of millions of ordinary workers who have seen the rich get richer and their own wages fail to keep step with rising prices.
At the heart of Poland’s dilemma lies a pivotal issue upon which a positive resolution of the nation’s destiny still hangs: who can do what the dock workers could not do? Namely, introduce a worker owned socio-economic revival based on The Third Way and thereby defeat the corporate and political forces whose devious alliance harbours barely hidden ambitions to take collective control of not only the Polish food chain, but the entire economic fortunes of the country.
Back in 1989, the passionate discourses of Solidarnosc workers had fomented what was both an extraordinary plan and a pragmatic solution to the immediate issues facing the country. That is surely exactly what is again needed now in 2012, not just for Poland but for the world at large. In fact everywhere where the outdated and outmoded models of capitalism and communism – and I would add socialism – retain their grip on socio-economic and political agendas.
The Third Way is far too important to be allowed to be swallowed up in historical narrative. It is a dynamic agenda which represents the best chance we have to overcome the phony politics of our time. Politics which seek to retain their power by dividing and conquering; by setting one faction against another faction; one false ideology against another false ideology; one class against another class. The seemingly endless cul de sac of no change which cunningly masquerades as choice.
The Third Way rises above this chimera and takes up the vacant center ground, having the potential to unite national sentiments in the process. It defines what a people-led movement should be, and finally gives the politically and economically marginalised center stage. Powerful banking and corporate industrial cabals that now rule the world will be brought down to earth with a mighty bump once such a movement finds its feet and receives the blessing of the electorate.
I believe that time is now at hand and the moment has come for the Solidarity plan, hatched more than 30 years ago, to be brought to fruition.
A Metamorphosis and a Destiny
The year 2012, and the years immediately following, seem to carry many auspicious attributes that suggest the suppression of humanity by small groups of power-obsessed financiers can be defeated and that fresh people-led actions can rise up to take their place. Poland is well placed to play a leading role in this metamorphosis. A metamorphosis that has the potential to unlock the creative powers so long held in check, both by foreign invaders and by a certain lack of self belief which has, until now, held back the promise of something far better for this long suffering nation: the realisation of a genuine state of self-determination and cultural flowering so longed for by millions of people from all walks of life.
This is a change which is surely overdue. The valiant struggles and set-backs of the ship workers of Ghadansk is still to be vindicated. Not in the now dismantled shipyards of the Baltic coast, but amongst the millions of small and medium sized farms that are the last remaining major asset still in the hands of working people. The last asset which was never captured by the Russian invaders and still remains out of reach of the IMF, the World Bank, the European Commission and the giant agribusiness, pharmaceutical and seed corporations that retain a their stranglehold on the Western food chain and the once fertile farmlands of Europe and North America.
It is precisely here where the chance still exists to turn around the fortunes of the Polish nation. It is here where one finds the last bastion of independent working people stubbornly refusing to give up their land-based way of life. These people, who are the true guardians of the non-patented food chain, need our support. Our future health and welfare is literally in their hands. Brussels has so far failed in its attempts to eject one million of such people from the land as the Commission promised back in 2000. The EU master plan is not working in Poland.
Since joining the EU in 2004, the number of farms going out of business stands at around 200,000. There still remain close to 1.5 million working farms, and the great majority are owned by those who work their soils. Here lies the most fertile ground for the realisation of a plan based around Solidarity’s still unrealised Third Way.
It is only the realisation of such a plan which can prevent these farms being picked off one by one by the banker-skewed global economy, mafia-run supermarkets and a European Union whose hygiene-obsessed regulations have nothing to do with health but everything to do with knocking out the small farmer to clear the way for agribusiness cartels. A plan based on The Third Way will finally put paid to a government long since living in the pocket of the GM and agrichemical industry. A united resistance can defeat such odds and, once and for all, free dear Poland from slavery.
That resistance is destined to rise up from the ancient fecund soils of rural Poland, and once it does it will become an unstoppable force rising out of the ashes like the reborn Phoenix. Only by supporting this land-based uprising can we all regain control of our destinies, freed from the merciless money machine which destroys or renders toxic all that is vital, beautiful and essential to our and our planet’s well being.
“Poland Up for Grabs” will only cease to haunt my soul once we have laid to rest the demonic forces that stand behind the top-down takeover of our lives. I didn’t come to Poland to save the wild flowers, but to help turn around the fortunes of a country that has somehow found a special place in my heart. I consider this a privilege. But I will not be at peace until this radical bottom-up process of change is well under way. And to those open hearts that are such a strong feature of Polish society are added the qualities of clarity and assertiveness without which such a change cannot succeed.
Julian is a British pioneer organic farmer, writer and activist. He is currently president of the ‘International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside’ which is leading the fight against GMO in Poland. He is author of “Changing Course for Life – Local Solutions to Global Problems” www.changingcourseforlife.info
Read other articles by Julian Rose here.
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