Social Relationships

Social Relationships

In the forty-five years of their rule, the communists built a monocentric society whose social and political fabric was dominated by a new elite of loyal government functionaries. In the 1950s, social institutions such as political groups, voluntary organizations, youth and professional organizations, and community associations lost their autonomy and were forced into a hierarchical state-controlled network. Only the Polish Catholic Church retained some degree of independence during this period. At the same time, however, smaller groups, initially isolated and fragmented, developed informal, pragmatic networks for economic supply, mediation of interests, and expression of antiestablishment views. Such groups functioned both within state-sanctioned institutions and among families, groups of friends, and small communities. In this context, dojscie (informal access to useful connections) was the means by which ordinary citizens remained above subsistence level.

The family, the traditional center of Polish social life, assumed a vital role in this informal system. In this respect, everyday urban life assumed some characteristics of traditional rural life. For both professional and working classes, extended families and circles of friends helped when a family or individual was not self-sufficient. Private exchange arrangements eased the chronic scarcities of the official supply system. Especially important within the family structure were parental support of grown children until they became self-sufficient and care by the children for their aging parents and grandparents. In the economic slump of the 1980s, urban food shortages often were alleviated by exchanges with rural relatives.

The inventive and independent networking process formed a distinct tier within Polish society. Seen by its participants as the repository of Polish nationhood and tradition, the world of dojscie increasingly contrasted with the inefficient, rigid, invasive, and corrupt state system. The emergence of Solidarity was a first step toward restoring the variety of social structures and independent cultural activities present in interwar Poland. In 1980 the phenomenon of public figures rising to tell the truth about Poland's problems began to break the wall between private and public morality, although the subsequent declaration of martial law temporarily dampened its effect.

The second tier involved illegal and quasi-legal actions as well as the pragmatic rearrangement of social relationships. Especially in the 1980s, the relationships between work performed and official wages and between job qualification and salary level (which for "ideological" reasons was higher for many classes of unskilled workers) were objects of general ridicule in Polish society. Under these circumstances, Poles increasingly saw the second tier, rather than the official economy, as the more rewarding investment of their initiative and responsibility. By the 1980s, this allocation of energy led some sociologists to argue that the second tier was necessary in order for communist societies such as Poland's to function.

The end of communism brought no rapid change in social attitudes. In the early postcommunist period, many Poles retained a deep-seated cynicism toward a state long perceived as an untrustworthy privileged elite. Direct and indirect stealing from such a state was at worst an amoral act that could never match the hypocrisy and corruption of high authorities who claimed to govern in the name of all the Polish people. But society's habit of separating "us" from "them" became a major obstacle to enlisting widespread public cooperation and sacrifice for largescale economic and political reform. Between October 1990 and January 1992, public confidence in the national government declined from 69 percent to 27 percent, according to a national poll.

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