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An outline of the history of the Polish Economic Society (by Artur Pollok) 

Poland regained independence in 1918 and this fact posed new most important challenges for the whole of society, dictated by the necessity of political and economic reconstruction of the country, destroyed both by partitions and war operations. Economists began to seek such organizational forms for their activities, which would be conducive for the reconstruction of the state. Three years after the end of the First World War the first two independent associations of economists were established in Poland - the Polish Economic Society, which was established on 27 February 1921 in Lviv, and two days later - on 1 March of the same year – the Economic Society in Krakow. These societies have played a major role in the development of Polish economic thought of the interwar period, as well as in strengthening the reborn Polish state.

From the very beginning the activities of the two societies were subordinated to the overriding aim to strengthen the economy of the reborn Polish state. The economists from societies were well aware of the fact that “poor” economy threatened the internal stability of the state and its international security. They focused economists were well aware of the fact that “poor” economy threaten the internal stability of the state and its international security. In 1921 Poland was, admittedly, a country with a relatively formed political system, but was still confronted with a number of serious economic problems, especially the underdevelopment of the industry. In the first half of the twenties of the last century the problems were aggravated by serious budget difficulties, which turned into currency crisis, the largest in the history of Poland, resulting in inflation on an unprecedented scale. The late twenties of the last century brought the deepest economic slump in the history of the capitalist economy, which triggered the global economic crisis with its effects stretching for almost the entire third decade of the twentieth century. All these issues were of particular concern of activists of both societies.

The Polish Economic Society in Lviv and the Economic Society in Krakow were conducting extensive research, reading, journalistic and publishing activities, focused on searching the measures to solve the problems facing the Polish economy. In the most important matters, these societies were putting forward legislative initiatives and were sending to the state authorities memorials, in which they presented their position on the subject matter, as well as were suggesting taking certain preventive measures. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 disrupted the 18-year period of extremely active business activities of both societies and also made it impossible to carry out the Second Congress of Polish Economists in Krakow.

After the end of World War II the Polish economists once again faced the political and economic challenges. The regional associations of economists have not been, however, reactivated. The idea of a nationwide social organization of economists prevailed, the one that would gather economic researchers and practitioners from all over the country. As a result, on 1 and 2 December 1945, the representatives of the economists from Warsaw, Lublin, Lodz, Krakow, and Poznan took part in the founding congress of the Polish Economic Society which took place in Lodz. The representatives of Lviv economic environment did not take part in the congress. It is significant, however, that when during the congress the name for the social organization of economists was searched for, it was decided to name it the “Polish Economic Society,” the same which society in Lviv bore. In this way, the contribution of Lviv in the development of the social movement of Polish economists has been commemorated.

During this congress, a national organization with branches located in major academic centres was set up instead of previously existing regional associations of economists. The development of the publishing activity was regarded as the most urgent matter. As a result of the war the scientific and educational base of the country was in fact ravaged. There was a shortage of textbooks at all levels of economic education, shortage of publications of Polish economists and translations of foreign books. It was also decided to resume the “Ekonomista”, a scientific journal founded in 1900, dedicated to science and the needs of economic life, which took place in 1947. According to the plan of the founders of the Polish Economic Society in major academic centres general assemblies of local communities of economists took place and convened branches of the Society.

In December 1950, during the First Congress of the Polish Economists the participants stressed in a resolution their willingness to actively participate in the construction of socialism in Poland. The Society focused on Marxist economics which was the primary and for a long time the only subject of research and educational and practical activities. The Society has become an instrument of influencing the society, promoting the economic policy of the government, created by the leadership of the Polish United Workers’ Party.

In June 1956, the 2nd Congress of Polish Economists took place and opened a new phase of the Society’s activity. In consequence a bipolar concept of development has been developed, which on one hand maintained the scientific nature of the organization, and on the other acquired also a professional dimension, i.e., focused on the practice of business (thus joining scientists with a broad range of practitioners). Increasingly, a grass-roots movement of economists employed in large state-owned enterprises began to be noticeable in the activities of the Society. The following years saw further rapid organizational development of the whole Society. In 1970, the Society gathered nationwide as many as 50,267 members.

At the end of the 1960s economic difficulties of the country began increasingly to show, in addition, accompanied by rising social tensions. The difficulties proved to be so substantial that Poland faced a serious socio-economic crisis in 1970. The state authorities have been forced to authorize changes to the centralized system of management of the national economy. Thus, the improvement of the inefficient economic system has become a major challenge that faced the community of economists at that time.

Because of the significant economic problems of the country, after a fifteen year break, the 3rd Congress of Polish Economists was convened in Warsaw on 7 and 8 January 1971. The economists who gathered at the Congress explicitly argued for the need to change the methods of managing economy and determined the role of the Society in this process, as reflected in the relevant resolutions submitted to state authorities. The Sixth Congress of the Polish United Workers’ Party, which was held in December of the same year, formulated a new strategy for socio-economic development of the country.

In 1973 a new system of functioning of economic organizations was introduced, known later as the system of large economic organizations. The system raised high hopes for improving the economic situation of the country. Almost all the activities of the Society were subordinated to the popularization and implementation of the system. Although in 1975 the system already covered 125 economic organizations, including 110 in the industry, which accounted for 68% of the total industrial production of the country, the system had not improved labour productivity or the effectiveness of management. Consequently, once again great social protests broke out, prompting in 1976 the state authorities to make another attempt to change the economic policy.

The nineteen eighties brought huge foreign debt burden, the inability to compete in international markets, and the total destruction of the Polish economy. The crisis of the nineteen eighties, regarded as the most serious in the post-war history of Poland, pointed clearly to the inefficiencies of centralized management of the economy, which actually had been repeatedly reformed. The then apparatus of power, however, did not recognize the need for a radical change in the direction of the system based on market mechanisms, in addition involving the democratization of social life. It was therefore another attempt to reform the socialist economy of Poland, which - as soon it turned out - also this time did not bring the expected results. Also this time the Polish Economic Society was heavily involved in the reform processes.

On 6-8 March 1981 the 6th Congress of Polish Economists was held in Warsaw under the slogan “The reform cannot go wrong.” One of the most important documents developed at the Congress was the study entitled “Directions of reconstruction of the system of functioning of the Polish economy in the eighties.” The concept of systemic change included in the study has had a significant impact on the final version of the economic reform programme, which was politically approved in the resolution of the 9th Extraordinary Congress of the Polish United Workers’ Party (July 1981). Despite serious political problems in the country the first period of the mid-1980s was marked by the reform. Activists of the Society actively supported the need for a quick change of organizational structures and principles of operation of the entire economic system in Poland.

The role of the Society in the process of reforms was strengthened after Professor Zdzisław Sadowski (who in November 1987 was elected the President of the Society) took over as Deputy Prime Minister. In the same year, on 27 and 28 November the 5th Congress of Polish Economists was held in Krakow. The proceedings of Congress were undoubtedly the most serious economic debate of that time in the country, and as it soon turned out, the last devoted to the socialist system of managing the national economy. The late 1980s brought a rapid growth of crisis trends in Poland, both in the economy and politics.

The communist command system of economic management, based primarily on the state monopoly, visible in all phases of the social process of management, as well as the dominance of state ownership, did not stand the test of time. The growing ineffectiveness of the system, and additionally the regime maintained by the then apparatus of power in the end had to bring about a deep crisis and the collapse of the socialist state model. As a result of a peaceful social contract negotiated in 1989, the process of transformation was initiated in Poland. It consisted in departing from the command system towards a democratic state with an economy based on market mechanisms. Thus the forty-year period of the Polish People’s Republic came to an end. For a number of years the economists in the Society have pointed to the need for a thorough reform of the Polish economy and now faced challenges resulting from the process of systemic transformation, unprecedented in the economic history of the world. This process not only forced the reorientation of the objectives and courses of action of the Polish Economic Society, but also a major organizational transformation of the Society.

In 1989, on the threshold of transformation, the Fifteenth National Congress of the Society took place and adopted a resolution defining a new courses of action for the organization. Among them were: the involvement of the Society in the transformation of Poland’s economic system from a centrally planned into the market economy, the development of free entrepreneurship (regardless of existing property relations in various economic entities), the creation of a qualitatively new economic order ensuring high efficiency of the economy. According to the resolution, of course, the tasks of the Society remained unchanged, i.e., the development of economic sciences and educational activities (including improvement of professional qualifications of economists). The Congress has also clearly defined the character of the Society as a fully pluralistic association, gathering economists with different beliefs and ways of thinking.

Economists who gathered at the Fifteenth National Congress of the Society, did not, however, foresee serious financial difficulties which, as a result of changes taking place, would affect the Society, its National Board, and the majority of Branches already in 1990. These problems have forced the profound organizational transformation of the Society which resulted in the Extraordinary National Congress held on 27 June 1991. Pursuant to the resolution passed at the Congress the supreme authorities of the Society were obliged to provide the individual Branches of the Society with legal and financial independence while maintaining the national integrity of the Society. This position was later adopted by the Sixteenth Congress of the National Society held in November 1993. The appropriate changes to the statute of the organization were made at this Congress. Under the new rules, the chief governing body directing the Society’s activities in the country was the National Board, composed of the presidents of the Branches of the Society from all over Poland. In mid-1993 organizational changes covered all Branches of the Society. In addition to the national authorities of the Polish Economic Society, with its seat in the Polish capital - Warsaw, the Society’s structure consists of 23 regional offices located in major Polish cities.

Currently, the Polish Economic Society has 2600 ordinary and honorary members and 59 supporting members. The outstanding Polish economists, often world-renowned, served as the presidents of the Society e.g, Professor Edward Lipiński (in the years 1945-1965), Professor Oskar Lange (1965), Professor Józef Pajestka (1965-1981), Professor Tomasz Afeltowicz (1981-1985), and Professor Zdzisław Sadowski (1985-2005). Professor Elżbieta Mączyńska from the Warsaw School of Economics has held the position of President of the Polish Economic Society since 2005.

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