Reconstruction of the Private Sector

In no country have we seen a richer soil and more susceptible of agriculture, than in Poland. Every acre, from Warsaw, is capable of great improvement, and the country at large might become the granary of the north of Europe

Robert Johnston, Travels (London, 1815, p.445)

The formation of a new community began almost immediately after the dissolution of the old. Its new ethnic profile was overwhelmingly Polish. The economic base on which this village was reconstructed reveals it to be a direct product of the socialist period. Socialist principles were energetically applied, notably in the development of State Farms and the Forestry Commission. However, greater reliance was placed on the traditional peasant economy, which immigrants to Wislok were permitted, within limits, to rebuild. This peasantry may not dominate statistically, as opportunities to work in the socialist Sector have increased, but it has been decisive in the molding of a new local society. In this chapter we concentrate on how peasant farming has managed to adapt to adverse economic circumstances, how it can withstand a crisis, and how it is likely to persist in the future.

The legacy of the Rus community is plundered by the Polish rural proletariat (1947-1959)

The Rus/Ukrainian villages were evacuated by early summer of 1947. The remaining inhabitants of the Wislok area were put onto trains at Koman'cza and dispatched to various settlements in the north and north-west of the country, leaving their houses and many other assets behind. Further action was taken to ensure that they would not be able to return. Some villages had already been damaged by righting and fell into a rapid process of decay, whilst others were now destroyed by the Army or looted by Polish civilians. Half a dozen villages bordering on Wislok experienced this fate and disappeared from the map. Wislok itself was raided by Polish peasants from Bukowsko (the former Polish-Jewish market center, 12 km away across the mountains), who made off with whatever they considered worth taking. Spontaneous pillage from outside was complemented by the establishment within Wislok of a new, extensive mode of production based upon the rapid plunder and squandering of the Rus/Ukrainian legacy. This began in the agricultural season of 1948, when about fifteen families were induced to settle in the village and commence independent farming operations. After a lag in the early 1950s more families followed, so that by the end of that decade the population was close to its current level of about 300 persons and the process of resettlement was effectively complete.1

The immigrants were Polish, their origins were diverse but had certain common features. The initial group was recruited from two lowland Galician villages, less than 200 km from Wislok, which in different ways illustrated the negative consequences for the agrarian structure of underdevelopment in the capitalist period. One was a densely populated village of small holders in which a large proportion of the population had no access to a viable farm, nor to any alternative form of employment. The other was a village dominated by a manor (dwor), in which a large proportion of the population worked as agricultural laborers, if they were fortunate enough to obtain work at all. In both of these villages the post-war Land Reform had had considerable leveling impact, but it had been impossible to allocate to every applicant an adequate size of holding. Those who were unsuccessful, and who were too slow or reluctant for other reasons to seek farms in the territories 'regained' from Germany, were easily tempted in 1948 by the promise of abundant fertile land and free accommodation ready for immediate occupancy. The opportunities were advertised by the authorities at District (powiat) level; they also assisted these migrants with free rail passage, special bank credits and exemption from taxes during the first years of residence in the new community. (See the Appendix for an example of how the experiences of one early immigrant were described in glowing terms in propaganda brochures aimed at enticing others to the region.)

Thus, it was not difficult for the authorities to recruit settlers, but since they had no practical strategy of economic renewal for this isolated region and no money to invest in it, they left these early immigrants to fend for themselves, with only minimal aid and advice. Unfortunately, just as it was not easy for the deported Ukrainians to adapt to lowland farming in Pomerania, so it was well nigh impossible for these Polish colonists, familiar with conditions on the plain but for the most part without any experience of running an independent farm, to adapt to the mountain environment. The season was shorter, the soils poorer, yields lower - and disenchantment was swift. The alternative was to resort to a more extensive mode of production, and with relatively few farmers working large areas (though their legal ownership rights extended only to quite small parcels) this soon became the general practice. The authorities were willing to purchase hay in Koman'cza for transport to lowland areas where the demand was high. The Wislok immigrants seized their chance and spent most of their summers simply cutting the grass. They retained a little for their own few animals and earned enough cash with the rest to see them through the year. Whilst the men cut and carted the hay other members of the family would collect the abundant mushrooms, which also found a market in Komancza.

Today some older men look back with nostalgia on these years of plenty. They moved into houses more spacious than any they had known before (with the pick of such a large number they naturally chose the best), and they cultivated or ravaged as large an area as they could manage. There was no tax to be paid and no rigorous demarcation of farm boundaries. In the long winters they did not need to worry about fuel, for they had only to dismantle the empty dwellings in their neighborhood. They therefore neglected the forests, just as they neglected to maintain paths in other areas they did not need and to curb the wild growth of natural vegetation. As numbers increased in the 1950s and the socialist sector was built up, gradually some of these new farmers realized that it would not always be possible to survive merely by appropriating the fruits of the past labors of others. The demand for hay slackened, the mushrooms disappeared (because, so it was said, there was no animal manure to stimulate their growth and anyway the land and forests were so overgrown they could not be seen). When the period of tax exemption came to an end the Wislok farmers too were subjected to compulsory delivery requirements, and limited to small and precisely demarcated plots. Few amongst the rural proletariat from the lowlands were able to adjust to these new demands. A positive example was set by immigrants hailing from other parts of the mountains (mainly near the Tatras, where land shortage was also acute), who were familiar with the techniques necessary to grow crops and breed animals successfully in difficult upland conditions. But they were a minority, and eventually the authorities became convinced of the need to devise some long-term development strategy to assist the rest of the new population. The next phase in the construction of the socialist farming community in Wislok can be conveniently dated from the approval in 1959 of a far-reaching Development Plan for the entire region of Bieszczady and adjacent parts of the Beskids.

The locally controlled Agricultural Circle is unable to save the private sector from stagnation and decline (1959-1975)

The 1959 Development Plan was an ambitious charter for the Bieszczady region which placed the main emphasis upon large projects and the need to build up a strong socialist sector. Thus, the period which followed witnessed a transformation of the local infrastructure in Wislok. Electricity was introduced in the early 1 960s and a few houses close to one of the new State Farms even obtained piped water. A new asphalt road was constructed to open the village to the world in two directions: eastwards to Koman'cza, the larger settlement 10 km away and on the railway line linking the mountain zone to the towns of the lowlands, and westwards to the small towns of Jasliska and Dukla. Regular daily bus services now enabled residents of Wislok to commute to work outside the village. The main such opportunity was in Rzepedz, where a large sawmill was built up in the 1960s.

The private sector of agriculture was not transformed, any more than it was in the rest of the country. After the phase of plunder, which arose out of the specific circumstances of resettlement, conditions now came to resemble much more closely those prevailing in other parts of the Polish countryside. By now the State Farms and Forestry Commission were fully operative and the restriction of the private sector to the central parts of the Wislok valley meant that farm boundaries were more effectively enforced within this area. Out of a total land area of just over 6,000 hectares, in the early 1960s the private sector was farming a mere 234 (whilst the State Farms had 2,738 hectares and the Forestry Commission most of the remainder). There was little variation in the size of the private holdings, which was usually restricted to 6 hectares per family (for comparison, the norm applied when new farms were established in the late 1970s was still only 8 hectares). Generally, this land was allocated in compact units near to dwellings but, though desirable in itself, this also made for considerable inefficiency and inequality. Some farmers received only flat, fertile land, part of which they would use as pasture, whilst others found themselves obliged to sow grain on steep stretches of hillside. Most of the outlying areas had passed to the State Farms, but since these did not have the resources to utilize them, large tracts ceased to contribute to production altogether. The pattern to emerge conformed to the highly egalitarian (at least on paper) pattern created throughout the country by the post-war Land Reform and reinforced by attacks upon the richer peasants (kulaks) during the Stalinist period, particularly up to 1954. As a productive system such a pattern of land holding had great deficiencies everywhere. In the lowland regions of the Rzeszow voivodeship, anything over 9 hectares was enough to brand a peas-alit as a kulak. In a mountain region, where pasture was plentiful, it did not make economic sense to enforce an upper limit of 6 hectares, and to require farmers by law to sell grain rather than animal products to the state.2

The Polish peasantry as a whole was not, at this time, well endowed with capital goods. The former proletarians, elevated to the status of peasant in Wislok, had fewer than most. Some managed to bring a horse and cart along with them; others acquired these and other basic tools (plough, harrow) only after their arrival, with the aid of state credits. Not until the 1970s did it become possible for a few farmers to own tractors and other modern equipment. It was recognized before this that the facilities and services needed by individual farmers could be made available on some collective basis. The Agricultural Circle3 was the institution revived after the political crisis of 1956 and charged with helping the private sector to increase its production, whilst simultaneously bringing it into closer contact with (and dependence upon) the national economy that was by now firmly under socialist control.

Agricultural Cooperatives, of which the revived Circle may be regarded as a particular type, had a long history in many parts of Poland before the socialist period. However, attempts in many parts of the country to `persuade' peasants to join Soviet-style collective farms in the early 1950s were so counter-productive that there was now widespread suspicion and accusations of 'backdoor collectivization' when a Circle was initiated in Wislok in 1959 by the outside authorities. It had to be emphasized to the new members that individual ownership rights would not be threatened, and that no collective work was expected. When this Circle was established it was able to draw credits from the State Bank and several tractors were acquired. At this point peasants began to take more interest in its affairs. A managing committee was popularly elected, and a few local young men with the appropriate qualifications were taken on as full-time employees. It became possible to carry out all major tasks on the land by machine (since even threshing could be accomplished with the aid of a machine hired by the Circle from Komancza). Not all farmers took advantage of the new facilities to the same degree; but some were induced to expand the area of their farms (and actually received formal permission to do so later in the 1960s), whilst even the least innovative families were pleased to reduce drudgery in the fields, and to release the horses for more remunerative work in the forests.

In spite of these benefits, there were few regrets when local control over the Circle was lost, as it merged in the mid-1970s with the Circles of neighboring settlements. Some informants preferred that control should be vested in strangers, since they said this was the only way to avoid favoritism within the village. They also hoped that the number and quality of machine services might improve more rapidly in a larger organization. It is possible that these later developments reveal not so much the peasant's deep-rooted hostility to all institutions smacking of `socialism', but simply the inability of these parvenu peasants of diverse origins to make any cooperative institutions work. It is also tempting to feel that, had the locally controlled Circle been given a better chance in the 1 960s (in terms of material equipment and competent extension services) then commodity production might have responded more impressively than it did.

The only exceptional measure of assistance granted in this period to farmers in the Bieszczady region was the provision of more generous credits to new settlers. In fact, almost all purchases of land and equipment relied entirely upon credits, in contrast to most lowland villages, where market prices were paid with cash. The incidence of re-emigration from Bieszczady remained high in the 1960s, and the predicament of new settlers did not differ basically from that of earlier pioneers, or from that of peasants elsewhere. They received little aid or advice from the socialist sector, into which considerable Investment resources were being channeled. Many of the credits to which they were entitled (some were reluctant to take them up) were used for housing or consumption goods; some were wasted, e.g. because of the lack of veterinary services. In any case credits could not command investment goods that were decreed to be unavailable to the private sector. In theory the Agricultural Circle was supposed to overcome this problem, i.e. to enable peasants to produce more without adding the private ownership of capital and machines to their private ownership of land. But so little was actually done through the Agricultural Circle that one must conclude that the authorities were determined not to permit the peasantry to modernize, even on these terms. For political reasons, the legal rights of ownership could not be revoked; but peasants were not encouraged to expand their farms to an economically warranted size. Access to capital was even more severely constrained, partly because in the economy as a whole resources were concentrated in industry, and partly because, within agriculture, priority was always given to the socialist sector. In such circumstances, the reaction of the third crucial factor of production, family labor, was understandable. Peasant farming ceased to be regarded in many households as a secure source of cash income and was replaced by wage-labor in socialist enterprises, both agricultural and industrial. Families neglected to invest in their farms, but kept them on mainly for subsistence purposes. Levels of commodity production (which is easily monitored in Wislok, since apart from the State Farms everyone must `market' almost all his produce through the official state channels in Koman'cza) were very low, possibly lower even than they had been in the pre-war period, when the Wislok fields had fed not 300 but almost 3,000 local residents.

There is little doubt about the long-term consequences of the agricultural policies pursued in Poland between the political crisis of 1956 and the adoption of a new course by the Gierek team in the 1970s. The failure to invest centrally, coupled with the failure to assure private investment, constituted deliberate negligence of a sector which traditionally had been the major national asset, and was no less detrimental than earlier crude attempts to impose collectivization. Once the latter had been definitively rejected, as a political consequence of 1956, it was essential to work out some alternative strategy for the longer term development of agriculture. Under Gomulka this raised an insoluble ideological dilemma. The problems which resulted were apparent in Wislok just as they were elsewhere. The average age of farmers rose as the young abandoned their heritage, and when farms without an heir reverted to the state the total area of land under cultivation began to fall. The fragmentation of holdings again became a problem as the new class of worker-peasants hung on to small-scale plots to meet subsistence needs. These long-term trends might be disguised by shorter cycles, influenced by climatic variation and by the alteration of purchasing prices by the authorities. The early 1 970s saw something of a boom when, in years of favorable weather, prices were raised and compulsory deliveries to the state finally abolished. When output increased dramatically it quickly became necessary to step up fodder imports, since domestic production had become insufficient to maintain the animal stock at its new high level. It was inevitable that structural changes would have to be attempted, but these did not ensue until the mid-1970s.

If the petrification of an antiquated agrarian structure lay at the root of the national problem in this period, how much more absurd it was to reproduce such a pattern in a mountain environment where the evacuation of a densely settled population had created a unique opportunity to commence a new and more rational system of upland farming. Unfortunately, only the socialist sector was considered eligible to be established on this footing. It is true that amongst the proletarians who became peasants in Wislok there were few who were well qualified to farm independently on any scale, let alone meet the challenge of a large uplands farm; but some might have, and they were denied their opportunity by rules which gave families no positive material incentive to produce more than they required for subsistence. Economic development was thus stifled by the rigid insistence on creating and maintaining a new village of egalitarian small-holdings, unaided by trained advisers and with only minimal access to modern technology. The only justifications were ideological; but as the economic costs became more apparent in the 1970s, the ideology and the policies were revised at the national level and the Polish peasantry entered the most recent phase of its development.

Gierek places a 'wager on the strong'

In the early 1970s, with Edward Gierek having replaced Gomulka at the head of the Party, all farmers obtained a better deal within the previous framework of institutions and controls, primarily through large increases in the purchasing prices for their products. Gierek continued by attempting to modernize the structure in such a way that some farmers would reap much greater benefits than others. The most significant step in this direction was a regulation of 1975 which singled out a group of dynamic, innovating producers in the private sector for a variety of credits and subsidies. They were called 'specialists', because they were supposed to abandon the ideal of the autarchic and diversified peasant farm in favor of specialized commodity production and integration into the national economy. An initiative of this kind might have had little impact at local level, had not simultaneous steps been taken to reform the administration (see Chapter Five) and to increase controls exercised by the local Party apparatus over the allocation of goods, services and credits. The authorities began to intervene in farming more decisively than they had in the days when detailed production targets were set. They were out to achieve a qualitative change in the performance of the private sector, but the fate of their experiment in Wislok illustrates its fate across the nation; let us see what happened in this period to the basic factors of production, land and capital.

The land market in Wislok, as in other resettled parts of the mountains, remained more tightly controlled by the authorities than was usual in lowland areas of continuous settlement. Consequently, one observes here in greater relief the underlying pattern prevailing elsewhere. Priority still went to the socialist sector. However, the State Farms were now encouraged, indeed obliged, to release lands which they were not fully able to exploit. Thus, some plots were transferred permanently to peasant farmers (payment, as usual, by credit). Lands formerly belonging to the Agricultural Circle were distributed in smaller parcels, the large number of claimants proving the demand for land to be strong in all sections of the peasantry. Moreover, as some individual holdings were abandoned (on the retirement or departure of the owner), these, too, could now be sold off to augment existing farms. A few new immigrants about this time were allowed to commence operations with an acreage two or three times greater than that which had been granted to earlier settlers, e.g. the case of Krzysztof Oltarzewski, described in the Appendix. The catch was that anyone wishing to obtain large credits, in order to pay the notional price attached to a large acreage, would need to qualify as a `specialist' and, through contracting with the state, commit himself to farming his larger resources in a particular, more commercial way. Control was now vested in the Chief Executive of the council in Komancza, who issued stern warnings to farmers and worker-peasants whom he considered to be neglecting their farms (usually on the grounds that they were selling nothing to the state). Such warnings could be followed up by the confiscation of plots and their re-allocation, either to other individual farmers or to the socialist sector. Thus, while the authorities came in the 1970s to tolerate great inequalities in the size of individual holdings, they were simultaneously concerned to obtain a much greater measure of control over the utilization of these lands. This control was aimed at the large holdings of the new specialists and at the non-productive 'dwarf-plots' of worker-peasant households alike.

Reform was clear cut in the case of the Agricultural Circle, whose job had been to supply capital goods and services to the private sector. It was just after a new depot had been constructed for the machines, in the center of Wislok, that it was decided in 1975 to abolish the local organization and transfer the equipment to Komancza. In practice there was no longer any pretense that the newly constituted Cooperative of Agricultural Circles (Spoldzielnia Kolek Rolniczych - hereafter SKR) retained the democratic and self-managing character of the earlier Circles. It became necessary to travel at least to Komancza, sometimes further to the SKR center at Szczawne (20 km), in order to request services. It became much more difficult to get jobs speedily completed, since the technician was now a non-local employee of the SKR, who could not easily be persuaded to work longer than his stipulated shift. Such factors, combined with increases in the rates charged and continuing deficiencies in the availability of many kinds of machine, made for a high level of dissatisfaction with this channel of aid to the private sector.

Some peasants, the new specialists, were now for the first time in a position to make alternative provision. While the Circles were bureaucratized and distanced themselves from the peasantry, during the later years of the 1970s much more equipment (especially tractors) was sold to the private sector. The allocation of new items was strictly controlled by the local administration, which received its quota from higher levels. Thus, a peasant's access to crucial items for production depended not upon the market and possession of an effective currency, but upon his productive potential as estimated by the authorities, or upon some still more 'subjective' assessment, involving factors such as political loyalty or social needs. The Chief Executive in Komancza acknowledged that decisions were often difficult to reach, and that he sometimes had to gamble on whom to support.

His options were fewer than might be expected because amongst Wislok farmers the demand for modern technology was not so strong as their readiness to apply for more land. This could be attributed to ingrained conservatism amongst older peasants; but the fear that they would not be able to maintain machinery, either through lack of skill or lack of spare parts, was also common amongst younger members of the community. Some preferred to draw credits for large new buildings, including some so foolishly conceived that they were never properly utilized. The fundamental problem for the authorities was how to persuade individual farmers, specialist and non-specialist alike, to deploy the resources available to genuinely productive purposes. There were still some who were congenitally opposed to accumulating debts of any kind. However, most farmers had grown accustomed to owing large amounts of money to the State Bank since their arrival in Wislok, and the policies of the 1970s merely increased the temptations: there was no stigma or shame in taking advantage. Of course, as before, many credits went to consumption or house-building, rather than the construction of farm buildings or the purchase of farm equipment.

The principal effect of Gierek's agricultural policies upon the private sector was to increase wealth differentiation. As a result of the more flexible land policy, of more generous credits backed by a better, though still imperfect, flow of goods, and the encouragement of private accumulation of the means of production (subject to close administrative control), overall production increased, in some cases quite impressively. There were tentative and partially successful attempts to integrate the private sector into the socialist sector, with a few specialists negotiating contracts to raise animals bred by socialist enterprises. Such specialization as there was in Wislok took place mainly in dairy production. However, it became necessary to import fodder to the village when the new specialists could not produce enough of their own. It seemed that generally advantageous patterns of cooperation were developing, with the socialist sector using its large land area and machine stock to concentrate on crop production and the peasantry applying itself to the more labor-intensive tasks associated with animal products. Such was the general ideological trend in the 1970s. It was held that peasant production could be increased without weakening the socialist sector, which on the contrary was expected actually to expand its area at the expense of weaker elements of the private sector. The policies did enjoy a limited success in Increasing commodity production in Wislok towards the end of the 1970s.

It must be emphasized that this upturn resulted from the efforts of a small proportion of the private sector, and that several of those who drew most assistance from the authorities implementing these policies did not repay the faith that was placed in them. Most individual farmers registered some expansion, but to break completely away from the old 6 hectare subsistence farms, dependent upon horses for draught power, was something which only the minority of specialists was permitted to achieve. The creation of such a privileged minority within the farming population constituted something of a political as well as an economic gamble by the Gierek regime. It might even be compared with the Czarist Minister Stolypin's 'wager on the strong' in pre-Revolutionary Russia, which was also inspired by the hope that an agrarian problem could be solved by stimulating a minority of peasants to produce more and in effect polarizing the different strata within the peasantry. The main problem in Poland in the 1970s was that the emergence of a robust, new, entrepreneurial class remained precluded by the official ideology. Farmers still could not prove themselves by competition on the open market, and there could be no guarantee at all that the socialist administrators would select `the strong' or even enable the individuals favored to consolidate their advantageous position in the long run. The lesson, that administrative methods are incapable of simulating market solutions, was one that was learned by the Polish economy as a whole in the 1970s. In agriculture little was done to help the majority of individual farmers, and the major change was perhaps that scarce resources were now made available to a privileged elite in the private sector as well as to the socialist sector. The combination of a run of bad harvests and the generally worsening economic climate led to grave difficulties at the end of the decade. By 1979, when fieldwork in Wislok was begun, the flow of resources to the specialists had become a trickle. With the prices for their products judged to be too low and fundamental inputs (e.g. fuel) generally unavailable, the peasantry was again united in its hostility to the government. Some farmers, having failed to supply the quantities of output to which they had contracted themselves, did not know whether they were still regarded officially as specialists or not.4

The peasantry in the years of crisis

Almost every household in Wislok is engaged in some subsistence production, though this is limited to a tiny vegetable garden in the case of some families employed in the socialist sector. Such production was always important in a village where supplies from outside were never reliable, but it became much more so when political crisis in the 1980s was followed not by an agricultural boom (as had been the case in the early 1970s), but by general shortages of foodstuffs. About half of the households in the village produce for subsistence purposes only. The number of active commodity-producing farms has fallen steadily over the last two decades, from fifty-seven in 1961 to little more than half of that number when fieldwork was conducted. Within these thirty households there are some which are no longer entirely dependent upon the farm for their cash incomes, and this is one factor to be born in mind when analyzing the present resources of the peasantry. The detailed information presented below was collected in the village and in the offices of the local administration in Koman'cza.5 The reliability of the statistics measuring farm output is enhanced by another piece of 1970s legislation designed to encourage farmers to maximize their commodity production: from 1978 the level of their future pension was closely tied to the value of the produce they sold to the state over a specified period before retirement. I shall begin by attempting to see if the size of final output can he related to the various factors of production already discussed - land, capital and labor - and then attempt to summarize the present state of the private sector and offer a prognosis for the future.

* * * *

Table 2 divides the commodity-producing farms of Wislok into five groups according to the total area of land which they owned in 1981, and shows the variation in size of area harvested (including hayfields) and in the value of production marketed. (Two annual averages are given, because of the very substantial price increases which were introduced by the Jaruzelski government at the beginning of 1981; overall there is no significant increase in production in this period; although, within each group, some individuals did expand their output, others reduced it, and on the whole the larger sums earned reflect only the inflation of purchasing prices; the 'average' farm of the early 1980s still made most of its money from a few hectares of grain production, supplemented by the delivery of just one head of cattle at the buying point; only a few specialists were regular suppliers of milk or fatteners of livestock.) The statistics give a reasonably accurate picture of the land actually used by the peasants: there is little lending or renting of land between them, and unofficial encroachment on State Farm lands is likewise insignificant nowadays. It can be seen that differentiation with respect to this factor of production has now become very significant. The average size for all farms taken together is 10 hectares, well above the national average. Each of the six farmers owning 15 hectares or more holds, or has held, a card proclaiming him to be a specialist; none of this group has any other source of regular household income. The largest holding is 38 hectares, and the average annual production of this farm over the entire six year period was in excess of 300,000 zloty.

Table 2: The land resources of the Private Sector
Size of farm No. of Averagesize Average size Value of
(hectares)farms/h/ of harvested average annual output
area /h/ (in 000s of zloty)
15522.99.1 149252

Farmers can also be readily differentiated according to the capital resources they own and the extent to which they make use of the facilities provided by the SKR. Clearly those who possess their own tractors and machinery are less dependent upon the latter institution, but several of the largest landowners are not in this happy position. Their bills for the hire of equipment may be large, but are normally still far below their larger incomes. Most peasants keep transactions with the SKR to a minimum. Some are willing to pay only for the services of a combine harvester, whilst a few consider even this to be an unnecessary extravagance: they harvest their grain by hand and pay only a small sum for use of an old-fashioned threshing machine. It would be misleading to present any figures, since the SKR has `informal' competitors within the village in the shape of the private tractor owners. One tractor-owner also operates his own combine harvester, which he purchased second-hand from the socialist sector, but which is very difficult to maintain privately.

Table 3: Investment Credits to the Private Sector
Investment credits No. of No. owning Average value of
obtained (000s of zloty) farms tractors, 1981 annual output
(000s of zloty)

As an admittedly imperfect measure of the capital resources of the private sector it is preferable to consider the investment credits awarded to individual farmers by the Agricultural Bank. The Bank has a complete record of such credits going back as far as the 1960s. The bulk of the credits taken up by Wislok farmers have been drawn since the mid-1970s. They carry extremely advantageous terms for borrowers, with a low interest rate (typically 1 percent) spread over a long repayment period (typically twenty-five years). Nevertheless, it can be seen in Table 3, which again divides the private sector into five groups, that some farmers have not profited from the opportunity for which almost all of them were theoretically eligible. Amongst those who have borrowed, the results in terms of output marketed are not as apparent as was the case with land. It can be seen that some of those who have borrowed most are still without tractors, though they may have erected imposing new buildings. As late as 1977 there were only two tractors owned by peasants in Wislok, and the majority of households kept a team of horses. Later, in addition to the specialists who were supplied with new machines, a number of other peasants managed to acquire them second-hand from the socialist sector. Some of these continued to use and take great pride in their horses, of which there was an average of 1.5 per farm during fieldwork in 1981.

There are various ways of examining the effect of the family labor supply upon the level of independent commodity production, a relation which no synchronic study can hope to resolve. Table 4 shows no clear relation between the total size of the house-hold (including infants and the infirm of all ages) and the value of output. It needs to be remembered that amongst these active commodity-producing farms there are some households which also have regular sources of wage income. In some instances unmarried children still resident in the village are the sole sources of such cash; but in others senior household members are employees of the socialist sector locally, or commute to an enterprise outside the village.

Table 4: Household Size and Commodity Production
Size of household,No. ofAverage value of annual Output
1981 (persons)farms (in OOOs of zloty) 1980-81
2 327
3 or more498
4or more854
5 or more6191
6 or more690
7 or more6107

About half of all active commodity-producing farms have some such source of outside income, which may influence agricultural production in various ways. It may remove the need to market produce at all when conditions are judged unfavorable, or at any rate cause families to reduce production targets significantly; and by removing members of the family from the private sector it also makes it that much more difficult for the family farm to function as efficiently as it would if all members were available all of the time. It was found, however, when looking at the production figures, that the value of output of many 'full-time farming' households (those closest to 'traditional peasantry') was not greater than that produced by households in which one or more members had some other employment. In both groups the range was wide, and it was clearly necessary to seek some more sophisticated means of examining the effect of the quality, as well as of the quantity, of labor available to the farm. The formulation of Table 5 was a simple step in this direction. It shows the number of persons resident (excluding children under the age of 16 and pensioners over 65) who were able to devote themselves fully to work on the individual farm. As might be anticipated output is much higher where a genuine family farm has persisted, with two members engaged full-time; but since no family has even a third member fully active on the farm the results fail to shed much light on the variations in levels of final output.

(Table Caption)
No. of able-bodied persons No. of Average age Average value of
of working age available to farms of the head annual output in
work full time on the farm, 1981 of household 000s of zloty.

The figures may also be set out from another angle, with all the components of production brought together and the active commodity-producing farms in the period 1981-3 divided into groups according to the value of output produced (Table 6). The imperfections and reservations noted in connection with Tables 2-5 apply with equal force; nevertheless, it is worth outlining the main characteristics of each of the three groups generated by this classification.

(Table 6. Selected resources of commodity producing farms, according to the value of their production in 1981-3)
Average annual0-100100-200200+
value of
production 1981-83
in 000s of zloty
Number of farms9186
Average size of48.516
land owned
No. owning 1233
Average investment32100.5267
credits in 000s of
Average size of
Average no. of 11.41.8
able-bodied adults,
No. of farms with 6111
wage-labor income

Beginning with the low income group, those farms which did not raise their production above the level of 100,000 zloty per year even after the substantial price increases of 1981, it can be seen from Table 6 that in terms of land holdings and capital assets their resources are indeed meager. Most of them have supplementary sources of income, whilst the number of persons available for full-time work on the farm is significantly below that of the higher income groups. The families without other incomes are likely to depend on casual work in the forests and, at peak periods, on State Farms and even on the large new private farms; the first of these is by far the most important and will be discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Few farms in this group are likely to maintain even their present low levels of commodity production when the current head of the household retires; but because of its subsistence role the heirs are likely to retain the holding, or at least a part of it, for as long as they continue to reside in Wislok. The general prospects for this group are bleak. Some of these farms are already `marginal', in that they satisfy some domestic needs, but bring in much less cash than is earned in the socialist sector. Generally they are of no interest to the children of the first generation of worker-peasants, whose aspirations are set firmly on the town. Some provide subsistence for poor families without any regular source of outside income (except perhaps some welfare payments from the administration); but where little or no investment has taken place and the land area has not been expanded, there is little chance that these farms will remain viable commodity-producing enterprises. Legally, these farms can be inherited and the heirs become eligible for assistance in building up the scale of the farm; but few show any inclination to do so, and those who do remain in Wislok are tending to become instead the nucleus of the permanent labor force in the socialist sector.

There is a large intermediate group, which may be regarded as the core of the surviving peasantry. Some members of this group increased production in the early 1980s, in response to higher money prices and the national propaganda campaign to overcome the food crisis. Yet so far, only a few have expanded their area significantly and only two have purchased tractors. Many continue to derive more money from grain production than from the specialized stock breeding or dairy production warranted by this environment. Here also many have been tempted, especially members of the younger generation, the potential heirs, by opportunities to work in the socialist sector. In the absence of a tractor, these families have kept a team of horses, which they use to augment their incomes in the forests. Some of the household heads in this group have deliberately built houses rather than stables, for although they themselves have decided not to move away from Wislok they doubt whether their children will wish to commit themselves to the farm. The future of the majority of the enterprises in this group must therefore be regarded as uncertain. The first immigrant generation has done just enough to keep open the option of staying on. Before the present crisis there seemed only little chance that many of them would. However, if a higher level of purchasing prices (in real terms) is maintained, if machines are made more widely available, as the government has promised, and if it is possible to expand acreage as well as to build and furnish new houses, then many farms in this group may remain viable and, indeed, expand the level of their commodity production.

This intermediate group also includes farmers who held specialist cards in the 1970s. These were the new arrivals of the 1970s, in whom the policy-makers placed their highest hopes, but who managed only intermediate levels of production. They began operations virtually from scratch on large new farms, entirely dependent upon the socialist sector for supplies and a continuing flow of credits. Their performance is frequently criticized by all other sections of the community (peasants, State Farm workers, even teachers), who level accusations of favoritism at the outside administration, and incompetence and laziness at the newcomers benefiting from its patronage. Some had no previous experience of independent farming, and all were clearly out of step with the traditional peasant labor process, preferring to rely on machine services from the SKR if at all possible. The average area of land actually sown by these farmers was lower than the average sown by other peasants in the intermediate group; most of their larger resources are used for hay, or simply as extensive grazing pasture. None of these newcomers lacking a background in peasant farming has lasted more than five years. Their performance over the short period of their stay has tended to be inconsistent; they too have tended to withdraw into subsistence production as soon as supplies from the socialist sector were no longer readily available.

It is equally true that there was some inconsistency amongst the specialists recruited from within the established community, and that some were deprived of their cards even before the scheme ceased to be of any practical consequence. However, a small number of specialists recruited from within the established peasantry constitutes the core of the high-income group. Between them they accounted for more than three-quarters of the total value of commodity production by the private sector in the early 1980s. Their output levels have been more than commensurate with the larger credits granted to them, and their increased acreage. It is clear that good performance owes as much to a favorable combination of traditional factors (a hardworking wife, and sons rather than daughters being the essential ingredients of the labor supply) as to help from the authorities. Such resources enabled a few peasants to maintain high levels of production during the crisis years, when some of the parachute' specialists virtually abandoned their farms. It is obvious that other peasants could follow this example, and that if supplies had not dwindled severely in the period when fieldwork was conducted, the performance of the peasant 'specialists' might have been still more impressive. Naturally, these farmers hope to find a successor from within the family. Some have concentrated their efforts on acquiring machinery and building stables, rather than houses in the first instance. They hope, naturally, that the latter will follow in due course, but even before the modern house is built these farms are much more attractive propositions for the younger generation.

* * * *

The future of private farming in Poland, and the extent to which it retains its peasant character, will depend upon whether a wider stratum of the existing peasantry is given cause to adopt the attitudes of those whose performance hitherto shows what can be done, even in very adverse circumstances, with the traditional resources of the peasant household. The aspiration to prosper on one's own land, and then pass this on to one's children, is extremely strong. But equally rooted in peasant traditions is the desire to escape from the monotony of the old peasant labor process. Given the policies pursued in the first three decades of socialism, it is not surprising that many Polish peasants became pessimistic about their chances of ever becoming modern commercial farmers, and looked elsewhere for greater comfort and security. The policies of Gierek in the 1970s improved prospects for some, but they also exacerbated tension and led some to think that results might flow from taking on large credits alone, irrespective of experience on the land and inputs of human labor. These policies were not enough to overcome earlier neglect of the agricultural sector, and contributed to plunging the whole economy into crisis. Gierek's eventual successor, Jaruzelski, made an encouraging start by raising purchasing prices and by calling for a restructuring of socialist industry, that it might better satisfy all the demands of non-socialist as well as socialist agriculture. This, of course, will take time to achieve, and with little improvement visible on the markets and rapid inflation eroding the value of the price increases, commodity production in Wislok was tending to fall again by 1984. At least the regime has remained faithful to one part of the agreements concluded with Rural Solidarity: it has constitutionally reaffirmed the inviolability of private property, and even put forward plans to permit dramatic increases in the permitted size of private holding (up to 250 hectares, more than the entire peasant sector in Wislok combined).6 Much must depend upon whether the peasant farms in the intermediate income bracket at present (see Table 6) can be induced to become more specialized, commodity-producing enterprises in the long run. There would then be less resentment within the private sector of an unduly narrow (and not exclusively peasant) elite enjoying the favors of the administration. Those households presently in the low income band would eventually cease producing for the market and become only part-time farmers, gainfully employed in the various branches of the socialist sector. In terms of the value of commodities marketed, society would not lose much from their metamorphosis. Jaruzelski's plan is not so different from that of Gierek: he has only promised more specifically that he will channel resources into agriculture, and thereby enable larger numbers of the peasantry to become 'strong'. But it is clear that many, perhaps the majority of the three million farms, cannot hope to carry on at all as significant enterprises. The inevitable polarization will be contrary both to traditional communist doctrine and to the egalitarian spirit of the agreements with Rural Solidarity. Its implications for the rural class structure will be considered in Chapter Eight below.7

In this chapter we have outlined the main trends in the private sector of the farming economy of Wislok since its reconstruction after 1947. The plundering and dissipation of the accumulated investments of the past were extreme (as elsewhere) in the Stalinist period in the early 1950s. This foreshadowed the general failure of successive socialist governments after 1956 to harness the potential of the private sector, of the traditional peasant economy, as an alternative to collectivization and a basis for agricultural modernization. In spite of the consequences of decades of neglect and discrimination, the recent performance of peasant 'specialists' shows that individual farming has retained much of its potential. If future governments can overcome the ideological difficulties, there is much scope for mutually rewarding cooperation between private and socialist sectors that would utilize to the full the advantages of the traditional family farm. This applies everywhere in Poland. It can apply also in countries in which collectivization has deprived the private sector of its land resources, but where, given ideological flexibility, plot farming continues nevertheless to make a vital contribution. It applies with particular force to a mountain zone, where the elimination of restrictions on land holding and improved supplies from the socialist sector would do much to stimulate the animal production in which the private sector is best qualified to specialize. It is a question of enabling the traditional peasantry to transform itself into modern family farmers, a change which could only benefit farmers themselves and the society to which they belong. Those who doubt the enthusiasm of peasant small holders to make this change, who emphasize conservatism, insensitivity to the profit motive, and even irrationality in peasant decision-taking, can draw no support from the Wislok evidence. These peasants have showed a sound grasp of economic advantage in their dealings with the wider economy. As the state subsidy on bread increased in value during the 1970s, they found it more and more profitable to feed fresh loaves to their chickens and pigs; and they were quite prepared to stand in line to buy the extra loaves. They were at the same time fully aware of the irrationality of the system whereby this became a rational choice for them. Calculations of more complex kinds were demonstrated in the trading of ration coupons at the height of the crisis, and in the use of dollars, cigarettes and vodka as alternatives to the official currency. It can only be regretted that the opportunity to calculate and to gain advantage has seldom been properly put before the peasantry in the field of production in the socialist period. During the latest crisis there have again been signs that the authorities are genuinely concerned to arrest the decline of the commodity-producing family-labor farm (as opposed merely to staging another short-term boom for agriculture, such as followed earlier political crises). The absolute number of private farms must continue to fall, but to secure the future of non-collectivized agriculture in this socialist state it is now in the authorities' vital interest to build up the economic strength of those farms able to attract heirs and to produce the goods needed by society. Only when the new stratum (or class?) of strong, independent farmers is fully established will the Polish peasantry have been extinguished.

Local Links:

Icon Return to Lemko Home Page

Document Information Document URL:

Page prepared by Walter Maksimovich

Copyright © 1999 LV Productions

© LV Productions  Originally Composed: April 8th, 1996
Date last modified: May 30th, 1999.