Solidarność: Acid Test for Trotskyists

Pamphlet published by the Bolshevik Tendency in 1988


I. Poland 1981: Key to Trotskyist Regroupment
II. A Bit of Polish History
III. Genesis of Solidarność
IV. The 1981 Congress: Solidarność Crosses the Rubicon
V. Marxism and “Mass Movements”
VI. Toward the Abyss
VII. Revolution or Counterrevolution
Appendix: Solidarność’s 1981 Program

I. Poland 1981: Key to Trotskyist Regroupment

“There can be, it is clear, no thought of the building of a new International by organizations that have profoundly different and even opposite principled bases.” 1
—Leon Trotsky, 31 August 1933

In the decisive confrontation of December 1981 between the Polish Stalinist regime and Solidarność, the international Spartacist tendency (iSt) was virtually alone among ostensible Trotskyist organizations in siding with Jaruzelski and the Polish government. The rest-from the United Secretariat of Ernest Mandel to the International Committee of Gerry Healy, to the Socialist Workers Party headed by Jack Barnes-lined up, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, behind Lech Walesa and Solidarność.

In opposing Walesa et al, the Spartacists tended on occasion to substitute crude sloganeering for thoughtful analysis. Far worse was the pro-Stalinist tilt evidenced by the iSt’s cynical internal position stating its willingness to “take responsibility in advance for whatever idiocies and atrocities” a Soviet intervention force in Poland might commit. Despite these errors, which flowed from a process of internal political degeneration already well advanced, and despite the fact that we have since broken completely with the Robertsonites, we recognize that the iSt stood on the correct side of the Polish barricades in 1981.

Those barricades still constitute a critically important line of demarcation between social democracy and centrism on the one hand, and genuine Trotskyism on the other. Agreement on this question remains a sine qua non for Trotskyist regroupment in this period.

In our experience, Solidarność’s “Trotskyist” trumpeters are not guided by any single coherent argument. Yet, from a melange of conflicting explanations, several distinct themes emerge. Many will concede that the leadership and ideology of Solidarność were reactionary. Against this, however, the apologists for Solidarność point out that it was born as a workers’ movement, used traditional methods of proletarian class struggle, and commanded the allegiance of an overwhelming majority of Poland’s working class. Is not the objective class character of a movement, ask the apologists, the ultimate criterion by which Marxists must judge it, regardless of its ideological forms and trappings? We argue it is not.

While the class composition of a social movement is important in making a political determination of its character, it is not sufficient in every case. Trotskyist tactics vis-a-vis trade unions are predicated on the assumption that the latter are instruments, however inadequate, through which workers struggle to improve their economic position in capitalist society. The normal method of conducting this struggle is by withdrawing labor power—striking. In general the Marxist vanguard supports strikes. But would anyone deny that under certain circumstances strikes can be reactionary? An example that springs to mind is the Ulster Workers’ Council strike of 1974. The purpose of this particular strike was to preserve Protestant ascendancy in Northern Ireland and so it had to be opposed.

There are many conceivable historical situations in which the immediate moods and objectives of the working class run counter to its long-term interests. The Polish crisis of 1981 represents one such instance. State ownership of the means of production, which characterizes the deformed workers states, represents a historic gain for the working class, a gain which must be defended against all attempts at capitalist restoration. By September 1981 Solidarność, in its ideology, international connections and political program, had clearly become a movement aimed at the restoration of capitalist property in Poland. The December 1981 crisis of the Polish state could only be resolved by the ascension of Solidarność to power or by its suppression. As painful as it may be to side with the Stalinist parasites against the majority of the Polish working class, the unpleasant truth is that the Stalinists, in December of 1981, were the only force in Polish society that stood in the way of capitalist restoration.

Trotskyism and Soviet Defensism

For Trotskyists, Solidarność can only be analyzed within the framework of our position on the “Russian question” and its programmatic implications. Marxists determine the class nature of a given state by its social content, that is, by the character of the property relations it defends—not by its political forms. Trotsky remarked in 1939:

“although economics determines politics not directly or immediately, but only in the last analysis, nevertheless economics does determine politics. The Marxists affirm precisely this in contrast to the bourgeois professors and their disciples. While analyzing and exposing the growing political independence of the bureaucracy from the proletariat, we have never lost sight of the objective social boundaries of this ‘independence’; namely, nationalized property supplemented by the monopoly of foreign trade.” 2

The state created by the Bolshevik Revolution was the first in the world to collectivize the means of production and establish a monopoly of foreign trade. These historic accomplishments remain today in the USSR, and have been replicated since World War II by the deformed social revolutions which uprooted capitalism in East Europe, in China, Cuba and Indochina.

The suppression of the capitalist market as the regulator of economic activity profoundly transforms any society. The establishment of a planned economy—even when carried out from above by Stalinist fiat—represents an important advance for the working class. Stalinist regimes typically attempt to consolidate and legitimize their rule by improving the conditions of life for the workers. In Eastern Europe this has meant full employment, stable (and frequently subsidized) food prices, guaranteed health care, cheap transportation and housing, and a general improvement in the standard of living (and social mobility) of the working population. Workers in these societies naturally place a positive value on such social gains and have tended to oppose any attempts to erode them.

Yet these social gains are endangered by the absolute monopoly of political life which the Stalinist ruling caste jealously guards. In a society where every facet of economic life is politically directed—from setting wage rates and working hours to the pricing of commodities—the bulk of the population has no effective means of influencing any of the decisions. To safeguard their precarious rule, the bureaucrats must suppress every manifestation of autonomous political—and even cultural—life. The straitjacket imposed on the creative potential of the population alienates many of the best and the brightest, and, in Trotsky’s words, produces a society which bears the “gray label of indifference.”

The role of Trotskyist organizations in the deformed and degenerated workers states is to mobilize the proletariat against the bureaucracy in a political revolution to shatter the Stalinist apparatus and establish the direct rule of the workers. The precondition for leading the proletariat and its allies in political revolution is the most intransigent defense of gains already won. As Trotsky remarked in April 1940: “It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may be distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones”.3

In this connection it is important to recall Trotsky’s analysis of the contradictory role of the Stalinist apparatus in the degenerated/deformed workers states. In 1933, Trotsky wrote that the Stalinist apparatus:

“fulfills a dual role: today, when there is no longer a Marxist leadership, and none forthcoming as yet, it defends the proletarian dictatorship with its own methods: but these methods are such as facilitate the victory of the enemy tomorrow. Whoever fails to understand this dual role of Stalinism in the USSR has understood nothing.” 4

In place of Trotsky’s dialectical understanding of the Stalinist bureaucracy, those “Trotskyists” who would side with the clericalist, pro-capitalist Walesa leadership against the Stalinist police apparatus in December 1981 advance the proposition that “Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and through.” This mistaken formulation (originally put forward by the majority of the American Socialist Workers Party in the struggle against the liquidationist Cochran-Clarke opposition in 1952-53) obscures the fact that despite the anti-working class and counterrevolutionary policies generally pursued by the ruling Stalinist bureaucracies, they are periodically forced to undertake measures to defend the system of nationalized property from which they derive their privileges.

What Would a Counterrevolution Look Like?

Lenin observed that, from the standpoint of the preservation of Bolshevik power, the White Guard armies were much less dangerous than the cheap commodities they brought in their train. The Bolsheviks instituted a state monopoly of foreign trade to protect the workers state from being undermined by the higher labor productivity of the capitalist world. Breaches in this monopoly represent a real danger to the continued existence of working-class property forms.

In the Soviet Union under the New Economic Policy of the 1920’s there was also the development of internal restorationist tendencies, personified by the kulak and Nepman. The chief advantage which the Stalinist bureaucratic centrist regime possessed in relation to the kulaks was the relative political atomization of the latter. Yet it would be a mistake to imagine that a social counterrevolution in the Eastern bloc would necessarily require a coherent “vanguard” organization. The overwhelming economic superiority of the West would insure imperialist penetration in the event of the collapse or destruction of state apparatuses that defend nationalized property.

Trotsky and other Marxists often contrasted the development of the proletarian and bourgeois revolutions. The capitalist class evolved the material and cultural conditions for its rule within the pores of feudal society. Conquering political supremacy was the last act in the bourgeois revolution. The proletariat, a dispossessed and exploited class under capitalism, can not develop its own mode of productive relations within bourgeois society precisely because working class property is predicated on the wholesale expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the collectivization of the means of production.

Before it can expropriate the bourgeoisie economically the working class must first establish its political supremacy. A planned economy—the distinctive economic feature of working-class rule—requires the collectivization of the atomized holdings of individual bourgeois proprietors. Expropriation of the decisive sectors of the capitalist economy tends to occur in a relatively compressed time frame—as the bourgeoisie tends not to cooperate in its own dissolution. A reversion of nationalized property to private ownership would very likely be a more protracted process:

“In the first months of Soviet rule the proletariat reigned on the basis of a bourgeois economy…Should a bourgeois counterrevolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalized economy. But what does such a type of temporary conflict between the economy and the state mean? It means a revolution or a counterrevolution.” 5

Over forty years before the creation of Solidarność Trotsky projected the course of capitalist restoration in a planned economy following the victorious seizure of power by a counterrevolutionary leadership:

“The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production. First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers’ co-operatives of the bourgeois type—into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalization would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual ‘corporations’—potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the emigre former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution.” 6

In addition to restoring capitalist relationships in agriculture (already far advanced in Poland), petty commodity production and retail sales, a capitalist restorationist “democratic” government would also seek to strengthen the ties to the capitalist world market. These measures were all proposed as the key steps in the creation of “a new economic structure” outlined in Solidarność’s October 1981 program.

II. A Bit of Polish History

In Poland “the Russian question” is literally tied to the national question. Poland as a nation-state—oppressed, divided and at times absorbed—has struggled for an independent national existence for nearly a thousand years. Polish nationalism, intricately interwoven with the Roman Catholic Church, has been directed against the Russians for a good part of that thousand years. Anti-Russian, anti-Soviet and anti-communist sentiments, which are widespread in Poland, were clearly reflected in the program and activity of the leadership of Solidarność. The irony here is that, had the capitalist restorationists of Solidarność succeeded in rallying the masses behind the banner of Polish “independence” in a successful showdown with the Stalinists, the result would have been to convert Poland into a miserable semi-colony of Western finance capital.

In the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, Poland reappeared on the map of Europe as an independent state power for the first time in over a century. With the defeat of the Red Army at the gates of Warsaw in August 1920, Poland, under the leadership of Marshal Pilsudski, managed to annex a substantial piece of real estate including portions of the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Lithuania. Stalin briefly regained this territory (and a little more) as a result of the Stalin/Hitler pact. Hitler subsequently absorbed Poland completely as “spoils of war” in the course of his ill-fated drive to the east. At the end of the war, as the Soviet army pushed the Nazis back, Stalin seriously considered absorbing Poland as the seventeenth “Soviet Socialist Republic.” It was only the chance to make a deal with world imperialism at Yalta that persuaded him to allow a separate nation-state to re-emerge. But the 1945 Poland was 22 percent smaller than the Poland of 1939. This, in combination with the heavy-handed Russian nationalism of the Kremlin overlords, guaranteed the survival of nationalist hostility to the Soviets, which finally blossomed as the cult of Pilsudski during the heyday of Solidarność.

Poland’s physical location and proximity to the USSR is a fact often overlooked by those self-professed Soviet-defensist “Trotskyists” who would alibi the clearly pro-imperialist inclinations of the Solidarność leadership. Poland is not Finland. In the real world, Poland has immense strategic importance in the defense of the USSR and the preservation of collectivized property in Eastern Europe. It was the main land route used for the invasion of Russia by both Napoleon and Hitler. If the NATO tanks one day set out to “roll back communism” in the USSR, they too will come via Poland. If Poland were to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, East Germany—the Soviets’ chief military ally—would be isolated. Any pro-socialist, anti-Stalinist elements in Poland must address this question head on. They must say: “Russian workers! We are your brothers—We are communists too! We are fighting our enemy and your enemy: the party bureaucrats! Come to our aid!” This appeal was never made by any element in Solidarność. Walesa and the rest of the clericalist leadership of Solidarność looked west, not east, for their salvation.

The Peasantry

In the immediate post-war period, the Russians, who had been through the Soviet collectivization under Stalin, favored in Poland an immediate redistribution of the land to the middle and small peasants and then rapid collectivization. There were half-hearted attempts at forced collectivization (later abandoned) during the period of virtual civil war between 1944 and 1947. Today more than three-quarters of the arable land in Poland is in the hands of peasant smallholders. According to the 1970 census some 57 percent of the private farmers owned less than five hectares. This stratum is frequently dubbed “worker-peasant” because its income is only partially derived from the land. The existence of this layer ensures a continuing interpenetration between the proletariat and the peasantry—a factor that was graphically demonstrated in the defense of Rural Solidarność by the union in March 1981.

Jean-Yves Potel reports a comment by Wieslaw Kecik, “a KOR member responsible for the agriculture sector” to a French trade-unionist who is perplexed by Solidarność’s support for the peasants’ demand for individual property titles to the land:

“The land is their tool. But the government has a right to take over any piece of land that falls vacant, or is put up for sale. There is a permanent threat of ‘collectivization’. Also when a peasant ‘farms his land badly’, they can take it away….To demand a guarantee of individual ownership is, in a sense, to demand a guarantee of employment and of control over your work.” 7

Kecik continues that the peasants “are frightened that the State is going to take their land. So they spend all their savings. These houses have every comfort: central heating, running water and toilets.” The peasant proprietors’ reluctance to invest in mechanization or other improvements to their holdings means in Potel’s words that, “Rather than an accumulation of capital, one was seeing a decapitalisation of private agriculture.” 8

The Stalinists’ futile attempts to conciliate the smallholders, who constitute the base of the Catholic church and provide a natural constituency for pro-capitalist currents, has had the additional “benefit” of crippling Polish agriculture. Daniel Singer comments:

“The economic drawbacks of this hybrid system are obvious: with 30 percent of total labor power still employed on the land, Poland is a net importer of food. Politically, too, this state of things is a major obstacle for the country’s rulers. The planners must allow for the reaction of the peasants as well as the vagaries of nature. The party leadership must reckon with the fact that it is running a country in which over one-quarter of the population are private property owners.” 9

The Church

As the Soviet army fought its way across Eastern Europe in 1944-45, the countries it liberated were largely agricultural and peasant-based economies (with the exception of Czechoslovakia). Even the portion of Germany they conquered was primarily the territory of the landed Junkers of eastern Prussia. In each of these countries the Stalinists, most of whom had come in the baggage train of the Soviet army, eventually set out to replicate the political and social conditions of the USSR. This involved a program of forced-march industrialization, forcible collectivization of agriculture and the suppression of all forms of opposition to the new regimes.

In A History of the People’s Democracies, Francois Fejto describes the situation of the church in the early years of Stalinist rule:

“On the death of Stalin, most of the leaders of the Catholic Church were in prison….In Poland several bishops were arrested in 1951-2, in contravention of the 1950 agreement between the State and the Church, and in the autumn of 1953 the Primate, Mgr Wyszynski, was placed under house arrest in a convent.. ..Thousands of priests and refractory monks had been imprisoned or interned throughout the Eastern countries….

“Between 1945 and 1952, all the People’s Democracies had broken off diplomatic relations with the Vatican, expelled the papal nuncios, and condemned the existing concordats. The Catholic press was reduced to a minimum. Only in Poland did religious education remain theoretically compulsory, but even there the authorities found a thousand and one excuses to flout the law.” 10

Moscow’s hostility toward the clerical hierarchy was related to the overtly anti-communist attitudes of the Vatican in the preceding period. Under the Nazi occupation the bulk of Poland’s clergy had exhibited pro-fascist sympathies:

“the majority of the Catholic clergy were less sympathetic to WICI (a quasi-leftist peasant youth organization) than to the Fascist and anti-semitic special pleading of the priest-deputies who held sway in the Sejm. A good example was the well-known Abbot Trzeciak, who used the Catholic daily Maly Dziennik to justify Hitler’s racist policies, basing himself on papal encyclicals.” 11

In the thirty-five years that followed the Soviet takeover of Poland, the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) never seriously challenged the hold of religious reaction. Even during the worst period of persecution, the church continued to grow and gain influence. Unable to neutralize the influence of the clerics, in the post-Stalin period, the regime changed its tack. In 1956 Gomulka abandoned attempts at agricultural collectivization and simultaneously reintroduced religious instruction in the schools and Catholic chaplains in the prisons and hospitals. He also returned the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny (which had been taken over in 1953 for refusing to run Stalin’s obituary on its front page) to its original editors. Church-state relations have had their ebbs and flows in the last thirty years, but in general the Stalinists have conciliated the episcopacy in an unsuccessful attempt to legitimize their own rule.

By outlawing every other form of social or political opposition, the Stalinists established the moral authority of the church in virtually all sectors of Polish society. The anti-clerical traditions of substantial sections of the intelligentsia and workers movement from the pre-war period have disappeared. One anti-communist smugly observed:

“in other Communist-ruled countries, where the Church has lacked access to the young or has, for historical reasons, been isolated from large sections of the population, growing revulsion against communism, its corruption, authoritarianism, and, above all, its systematic lying, gradually turned into cynical conformism or resignation, followed by internal withdrawal. In Poland, because the majority of the people identified themselves with the Church’s traditional values of patriotism and integrity, its moral authority with the population grew steadily.” 12

The “moral authority” accrued by the episcopacy translated into considerable temporal clout via Solidarność. The Roman Catholic Church in Poland is not a class-neutral institution. It is committed to the maintenance of the capitalist world order internationally, the destruction of atheistic Marxism, and the preservation of the holiest of holies—private property. These are facts that cannot be wished away by ignoring the Masses in the factories, the Papal flags, Madonnas and religious processions.

There were some differences within the hierarchy as to how to use its influence. Cardinal Glemp, following the tradition of Cardinal Wyszynski, was chiefly concerned to increase its control of education and its access to the mass communications media. To this end, the church sought to pose as a mediator between Solidarność and the regime, while taking advantage of every opportunity to proselytize in the urban working class. The newly installed Polish pontiff had a somewhat more interventionist inclination. Oliver MacDonald describes John Paul II’s orientation:

“Far less nervous of the popular movement than Wyszynski, the Pope was interested in cooperating with and hegemonizing its secular forces. Compared to Wyszynski he downplayed traditional Polish nationalism and instead encouraged the movement to look to the Western bourgeois states as its home.” 13

The political influence of the anti-working class Catholic hierarchy was powerfully demonstrated by the pope’s triumphant tour of Poland in the summer of 1979—an event which has been widely linked to the explosion in Gdansk the following summer. In The Road to Gdansk, Daniel Singer provided the following description:

“When the Polish Pope, John Paul II, revisited his homeland in 1979, gathering huge and enthusiastic crowds, dominating the political stage, speaking like the spiritual master of the land, his apotheosis could be interpreted as the condemnation of the regime in the thirty-fifth year of its existence. His triumph was the certificate of ideological and political bankruptcy for an allegedly communist regime. The judgment may sound harsh; after all, Poland was a devout Catholic country before the war too. Admittedly. But at the time there was also an anti-clerical trend among socialists, communists, and a progressive intelligentsia which all opposed the church as an institution backing the landowners, blessing the capitalist, flirting with anti-Semitism and living in sin with Pilsudski and his colonels. The power of the church then rested on the backwardness of a nation kept in darkness and on the support of the mighty. Even immediately after the war the Catholic church still looked and acted as the upholder of property and privilege against any progressive reform. Afterward, if I may say so, the regime succeeded in bestowing upon it a new virginity.

“it did so, to cut a long story short, by failing to provide an alternative and by tarnishing through its bastard and oppressive regime the very name of socialism.” 14

The tragedy of the Polish working class is that decades of Stalinist political repression, broken promises of reform, ostentatious corruption and gross economic mismanagement drove millions of proletarians into the arms of clerical-nationalist reaction. Stalin is reported to have dismissed the Vatican as a significant factor in world politics by asking how many divisions the pope could field. Perhaps the greatest crime of Polish Stalinism is to have provided the pope with his “divisions.”

III. Genesis of Solidarność

In Europe and America, the 1970’s saw a dramatic recession of the radical wave of 1968. In Western Europe, demoralized former New Leftists found a home in the social democracies, while in America their counterparts joined the Democratic Party. In both cases these layers gravitated toward the politics of the trade-union bureaucracy. In Poland, however, the only powerful social institution independent of the state was the Catholic church.

Jan Kott, an emigre of the 1968 Opposition who returned to Poland in 1979, registered the reactionary drift in the intervening decade:

“Three names were passionately emphasized: Dmowski [leader of the right-wing National Democrats], Pilsudski and Daszynski [a leader of Pilsudski’s Polish Socialist Party]. For a time I simply couldn’t grasp what was going on. I rubbed my eyes. What did this recall? In which emigration in London, in which anachronistic Warsaw did I find myself? Before the war…but before which war, the second? No, before the first!” 15

The evolution of the regime’s critics during the 1970’s was exemplified in men such as Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik. Michnik, reputedly “a zealous Marxist in his early youth,” wrote a book titled, significantly, The Church, The Left, A Dialogue published in 1977 in France. Czeslaw Milosz in the foreword to a 1985 collection of Michnik’s essays describes this book as marking “a decisive turn in the political climate of his country” because Michnik was now proposing an alliance between the church and the dissidents in the struggle for “freedom.”

By the mid-1970’s, Kuron too had traveled quite a distance from the generally leftist criticisms of Stalinism put forward in his famous 1965 “Open Letter” to the PUWP. At that time Kuron, and his co-thinker Karol Modzelewski, were calling for a workers militia as the sole political and economic authority. They complained that, “the bureaucratic and reactionary dictatorship favors the traditional political right,” and warned against the “politically right-wing groupings and currents headed by the church hierarchy, which hang on to the old catchwords of reactionary ideology.” 16 The day after distributing the “Open Letter” they were arrested and charged with advocating the “forcible overthrow” of the state. When they were sentenced, Kuron and Modzelewski joined their supporters in the courtroom in singing the “lnternationale.”

But a few years later, Kuron was singing another tune. He had discovered that, “the Catholic movement is fighting to defend freedom of conscience and human dignity.” He proposed that Poland should “strive for a status similar to Finland’s: a parliamentary democracy with a limited independence in the field of foreign policy where it directly touches the interests of the USSR.” 17 The fusion of bourgeois “pluralism,” Polish nationalism and male-chauvinist Catholicism was to become the central axis of Solidarność’s program.

In 1976 Kuron and Michnik founded KOR (Workers Defense Committee), a social-democratic grouping of dissident intellectuals and political activists. KOR originated as a committee to defend militants persecuted for resisting a round of price increases in 1976. It soon began to expose and publicize a variety of bureaucratic atrocities. The political program of Solidarność was cradled in KOR’s “flying universities,” where dissident intellectuals used churches as classrooms to lecture on subjects prohibited by the state. In Krakow, then-Archbishop Wojtyla (now Pope John Paul II) was an enthusiastic supporter of this venture.

By 1979, KOR sympathizers were producing a weekly semi-underground paper, Robotnik. with an estimated circulation of ten to twenty thousand. KOR cadres were to play key roles as influential advisers throughout the life of Solidarność. One young Gdansk worker remarked after hearing Michnik, “Some of us, including me, had our doubts about the intentions, the means and the origin of the KOR. Now I know that Solidarity came out of the KOR. They said it before, now it’s us who are saying it.” 18 A woman worker interviewed by Alain Touraine accurately encapsulated Solidarność’s genesis: “The KOR made us think, the Pope gave us courage.” 19

KOR’s advocacy of parliamentary democracy, like its advocacy of increased market “freedom,” had significant appeal to workers subjected to three decades of Stalinist political repression and incompetence. It also found a sympathetic response from the White House. Timothy Garton Ash explains:

“in early 1977 the most active younger members of KOR were arrested, and materials collected for a trial. Then, in July 1977, they were all quite unexpectedly amnestied….By 1977 Gierek was already in desperate financial straits, while the ‘Helsinki process’ was in full swing and the Carter administration made the most explicit ‘linkage’ between the economic and human rights components of detente. That year both Chancellor Schmidt and President Carter visited Warsaw. At a press conference Carter loudly praised the Polish record on human rights and religious tolerance, in the next breath announcing a further $200 million of US credits. ‘Linkage’ could hardly be more explicit than that.” 20

Gierek’s Economic Disaster

Solidarność was born in August 1980 as a response of the Polish workers to the profound economic crisis engendered by the Stalinist regime. By the late 1970’s it was clear that the Gierek regime’s attempts to create export-led growth by mortgaging the economy to the western banks was a colossal failure. Export revenues, which were supposed to raise domestic consumption and living standards, were instead used to service the accumulated debts.

The Polish economy was hobbled by the Stalinists’ policy of conciliating peasant farmers. The small size of their holdings made mechanization infeasible. At the same time, the smallholders’ distrust of the regime meant that attempts to encourage them to acquire more land and purchase tractors had negligible results. The only way these petty-capitalist farmers could be induced to produce more was by raising the prices paid to them. But this risked confrontation with the working class, which has historically resisted increased food prices. The bureaucrats’ “solution” was an elaborate system of state subsidies which consumed an ever-increasing share of the available social surplus. Throughout the 1970’s, domestic food production stagnated; but peasant earnings (and state subsidies) continued to rise. By 1977, it was estimated that the subsidy amounted to 70 percent of the retail price of food in the shops.

In 1980, after the imperialist financiers finally tightened credit to the regime, Gierek was forced to raise the price of meat. This detonated a massive wave of working-class resistance, as had previous attempted price-hikes in 1970 and 1976. Yet the crisis of the regime was far more serious in 1980 than ever before. This time the bulk of the workers, including most of those who belonged to the PUWP—some ten percent of the industrial proletariat—had lost faith in all wings of the ruling elite. The earlier upsurges had created no new organizational structures, whereas the strike wave of August 1980, which rapidly spread from Gdansk throughout the country, gave birth to Solidarność, the first independent trade union in a [bureaucratized workers’] state.

The 1980 Gdansk Accord

The Gdansk and Szczecin accords reflected the relation of forces existing in the fall of 1980. Adam Michnik remarked, “For both sides this compromise was a marriage of convenience, not of love.” 21 The Stalinist apparatus conceded the creation of a genuine “self-governing” trade union. In return Solidarność agreed to respect the Stalinist principle of the “leading role” of the PUWP and to respect social property in the means of production. While we would have opposed the “leading role” clause and the call for “access to the mass media by religious organizations in the course of their religious activities,” the August strike and most of the terms of the settlement were certainly supportable. Trotskyists could only welcome the strengthening of the Polish workers vis-a-vis the Stalinist bureaucrats and their police apparatus. At the same time, it was necessary to come out firmly against the increasingly pro-Western and clericalist tilt of the union leadership.

But the August Gdansk accord could only represent a temporary resolution of the conflict. In a period of declining production with a skyrocketing international debt, it was utopian to expect that “politics” which was to be the exclusive preserve of the PUWP could long be divorced from economics. Through the winter and spring of 1980-81 Solidarność’s very success meant that it was necessarily forced to pose answers on the level of the economy as a whole.

Given the clerical-nationalist character of the union leadership, it is hardly surprising that their “reforms” were not premised on the defense of nationalized property in the means of production.

The Bydgoszcz Crisis: Solidarność Goes to the Brink

A critical confrontation between Solidarność and the regime came in late March 1981. The issue was the legalization of “Rural Solidarność”—a kulak “union” inaugurated to maintain the colossal ransom represented by the state subsidy paid to inefficient private agricultural producers. The Catholic hierarchy, which has historically based itself on the Polish peasantry, was determined to win recognition for Rural Solidarność, and interceded directly with the government on several occasions.

On 19 March 1981, 200 police burst into the prefecture at Bydgoszcz, and beat up Jan Rulewski, a local Solidarność leader who was meeting with a group of Rural Solidarność members. This led to a one-hour warning strike on March 27 by millions of Solidarność workers. The Solidarność leadership threatened to launch an unlimited general strike on March 30 if its demands were not met. Faced with an impressive and determined display by Poland’s workers (including a large section of the PUWP ranks), the regime relented and agreed to recognize Rural Solidarność.

Solidarność won a round at Bydgoszcz, but the willingness of the leadership to reach a settlement with the government—which the episcopacy was pushing for—created dissatisfaction among elements of its base who felt that more concessions could have been won. In this instance Walesa acted as the agent of the hierarchy within the leadership of Solidarność, and ultimately carried the day. According to Walesa, “What really happened was that we were in danger of splitting up; splitting away from the Church especially. At times like that you’ve got to turn back.” 22 But not everyone was pleased with the result. Oliver MacDonald commented that in the aftermath of Bydgoszcz:

“The masses tended to drift in other directions as the economic crisis weighed ever more heavily and as Solidarity did not seem strong enough to resolve their problems. Some began to yearn for a strong government of any sort, others launched into wild-cat action on their own, out of the Solidarity leadership’s control. As for the movement’s activists, they began to search for more radical political answers to the crisis, moving beyond purely trade-unionist objectives.” 23

IV. The 1981 Congress—Solidarność Crosses the Rubicon

When the Temporary Coordinating Commission (TKK) of Solidarność emerged aboveground in 1985, its economic program included the following demands:

“—Alongside state ownership in the national economy, there should be room for a wide range of private ownership which should include industry….Fair competition should decide which kind of ownership will predominate in the various fields of the national economy.

“—Alongside the central banks, there should be deposit banks, acting as independent enterprises and earning profits by lending on interest.

“—Alongside the market for goods and services, there should be a stock market, enabling anyone to buy shares and bonds, to become one of the sources of capital for the development of enterprises.

“—…Prices must be allowed to be shaped by the market.

“—In cases of unprofitable enterprises, the principle of bankruptcy and insolvency should be vigorously adhered to.

“—Private foreign capital should have legally guaranteed conditions for safe investment in Poland, also in the form, among others, of joint private-state capital companies.” 24

Alongside “workers management”, we get a “workers” stock exchange, “workers” private banks, private foreign investment, and, of course, “workers” bankruptcy and unemployment lines. Most socialists would have little trouble identifying these demands as a call for the reintroduction of an economy driven by competition in the market—i.e., capitalism. But the 1985 proposals are essentially the same as the market-oriented proposals adopted by the Solidarność congress four years earlier.

The 1981 National Congress: Democratic and Authoritative

Until its national congress in September-October 1981, the character of Solidarność was historically undetermined. On the one hand, Solidarność was the creation of an upsurge of the mass of the Polish working class—including a third of the rank and file of the ruling PUWP. On the other, it was dominated by a group of men who were attached to the Catholic Church and who were fond of the “democratic” imperialists. (In the fall of 1980 Walesa had hailed Reagan’s election as “a good sign” for Poland.) Walesa and his cronies were generally recognized as the leaders of the movement, yet they had no mechanism for enforcing their will, nor any clear mandate from their base.

This anomalous situation was resolved by the union’s delegated congress. It was an extremely democratic, fully representative and therefore unquestionably authoritative gathering. Lawrence Weschler reports:

“Barely a year old, Solidarity not only had acquired a membership of approximately ten million but, through an elaborate, decentralized process, had even managed to include all ten million in the sequence of grass-roots balloting, local caucuses, and regional congresses that finally selected the representatives who were gathering in the hall.” 25

Delegates had been freely elected at local and regional meetings. Open debate was encouraged at the congress, and any delegate was free to take the floor and speak on any point. After a preliminary six-day session which considered a variety of different proposals, the delegates adjourned to their constituents for consultation and instructions.

Timothy Carton Ash reported on the deliberations which went into arriving at the final program:

“in the interval between the two rounds [of the congress], more than a hundred delegates organised in thirteen working-groups spent several hundred hours thrashing out a final draft Programme comprising eight ‘chapters’ and thirty-seven ‘theses’. The second round of the Congress then debated and voted on each individual chapter, incorporating numerous amendments proposed from the floor.” 26

As Alain Touraine commented, the “meticulous formal democracy was a guarantee of the movement’s legitimacy and put the Congress’s decisions beyond all possible dispute.” 27

Solidarność’s Economic Program: A Restorationist Document

This profoundly democratic process resulted in a political crystallization of Solidarność as a pro-capitalist political movement. While it unquestionably included the bulk of the Polish working class, Solidarność was no longer simply a workers union. Its program proclaimed: “We are an organization combining the features of a trade union and of a great social movement.” Indeed a majority of the almost 900 delegates to the congress were not workers.

The program ultimately adopted in October 1981 provides the most accurate possible measure of the political character of this social movement. This is a document which can not be brushed aside as “inadequate,” “partial” or “contradictory” as some defenders would like. Many of the demands raised in the Solidarność program (which we have reprinted as an appendix to this pamphlet) deal with questions of marginal importance; the call for adequate heating and food for the elderly or for the protection of the environment are, in themselves, unobjectionable. But they are also politically insignificant. The essence of the document is a proposal for radically dismantling the Polish planned economy in favor of a “new economic and social system” where market forces would reign supreme.

We propose to analyze several key sections of the program. The document is composed of eight sections and includes thirty-seven theses. Many of these theses have subpoints. For ease of reference we will indicate the location of material quoted as follows: the section (denoted by Roman numerals); the thesis number, and, the subpoint number (if any). Thus “III.1.1” refers to section three, thesis one, subpoint one.

“The structure of economic organization serving the command system must be broken up. It is necessary to separate the apparatus of economic administration from political power.”

“It is necessary to sweep away the bureaucratic barriers which make it impossible for the market to operate. The central organs of economic administration should not limit enterprise activity or prescribe suppliers and buyers for its output. Enterprises shall be able to operate freely on the internal market, except in fields where a licence is compulsory. international trade must be accessible to all enterprises…. The relationship between supply and demand must determine price levels.”

The call to “sweep away bureaucratic barriers which make it impossible for the market to operate” is not a program for reforming the system of nationalized property. The separation between politics and economics is precisely characteristic of a market economy; in a collectivized, planned economy the two are merged. To remove the barriers to the free operation of the market is to dismantle central planning. This is a proposal for a fundamental transformation of property relations—i.e., for social counterrevolution.

The sentence “international trade must be accessible to all enterprises” means what it says: the state monopoly of foreign trade is to be abrogated and each enterprise is to gain access to the world market. This proposal for dismantling the monopoly of foreign trade, which Trotsky stipulated as the essential corollary of nationalized property, is reiterated in III.3.2:

“It is necessary to use surplus stocks of materials, machinery and plant, making it easier for them to be sold abroad and selling them to private enterprises within Poland. Present restrictions on the activity of such enterprises must be lifted.”

This is a naked call for establishing a market in the means of production and removing restrictions on the right of enterprises to sell the means of production on the international capitalist market—in other words, for the destruction of working-class property forms.

Unemployment, Poverty, Regional Disparity: Solidarność’s ‘Reform’

“The main way in which market equilibrium will be restored is through an increase in the production and supply of goods. However, this will not be enough to restore market equilibrium in the short run. It will also be necessary to reduce the demand for goods.”

This is an anticipation of lowered living standards as one of the “social costs” of the restoration of market equilibrium. In addition to unemployment and reduced living standards, the program projects growing disparities between enterprises and regions as part of the “new economic order.”

“The economic reform will carry a danger of great social and income inequality among enterprises and regions. We must create the conditions in which such inequalities can be minimized.

“Our efforts will be aimed at: a) bringing social action and enterprise welfare activity under the responsibility of regional self-governing bodies: and b) creating a socially controlled national fund to transfer capital from one region to another….”

The designers of “the new social and economic system” outlined In Solidarność’s 1981 program knew that a market-driven economy would entail real costs for the working class, including unemployment and the growth of regional disparities. So they tacked on some rhetoric about looking after the victims in the manner of bourgeois politicians who promise a “safety net” to catch those who fall through the cracks of free market exploitation.

In a planned economy there is no need for relief for the unemployed, nor is there a need for a special fund to offset regional and factory disparities; these are only necessary when the law of value determines production. In a planned economy, workers are not rewarded by the profitability of their own particular enterprise. There is no structural unemployment. Those who drafted the Solidarność economic “reform” package knew what they were talking about notwithstanding the alibis of their “Trotskyist” cheerleaders.

Pandering to the Kulaks

“In principle, the peasant economy must receive a large share of the means of production, especially agricultural tools and machinery, fertilizer and fodder (above all, of the high protein variety). This will permit higher food production, since the peasant economy is more efficient than the socialized sector.”

Here we have an explicitly pro-capitalist demand which Solidarność’s left apologists typically ignore. Poland’s small peasant farmers are not efficient—their low level of productivity is a fetter on the economy. The kulak layer, which Solidarność’s reform was intended to benefit, is considerably more efficient than the smallholders. Jean-Yves Potel describes one such individual, a “large landowner”:

“The man was about 40 years old. His wife did not work, and he employed a worker. His house was large and new, built in the style of a French doctor’s house. The rooms were decorated to excess, and in bad taste. Here was a nouveau riche, showing off his money. He showed them into the living room: wall-to-wall carpeting and a well-stocked drink cupboard—champagne, liqueurs. aperitifs… Outside, the lawn was impeccable. The garage was equally well-stocked, with a small lorry and a smart Mercedes. He took his guests to visit the greenhouses. They were well maintained: according to the season, they housed flowers or vegetables.

“The market-gardener was in favour of the peasants’ union, and in fact had already joined it. Andre inquired of the vice-president of the union, who had come along with them: ‘Don’t these kinds of members pose problems for you?’

“‘All peasants have the right to join the union.'” 28

“Rural Solidarność” was inevitably the political vehicle for this individual and others like him. This layer exercised an influence in the countryside out of proportion to its numbers. Backed by millions of petty capitalist farmers, closely linked to the clerical hierarchy, the kulaks formed an integral component of the social base for restorationism in Poland. The Solidarność program proposed to divert resources from collectivized farms to accelerate the development of this stratum. To our knowledge none of Walesa’s legion of “Trotskyist” lawyers, who conceive of Solidarność as a movement with an inherently “socialist” dynamic, has yet been able to explain how pandering to the kulaks was supposed to advance the interests of the Polish workers.

Solidarność’s Self-Management Scheme

“A new economic structure must be built. In the organization of the economy, the basic unit will be a collectively managed social enterprise…. It shall apply economic calculation in the affairs of management. The state may influence enterprise activity through various regulations and economic instruments—prices, taxes, interest rates and so on.”

Solidarność’s demand for workers “self-management” of the economy is often pointed to by its left apologists as the progressive, pro-working class side of its program. Yet for anyone familiar with the basic tenets of socialism, it should be evident that this proposal has nothing to do with a struggle by the working class to wrest control of economic planning from the bureaucracy. “Self-management” as elaborated by Solidarność meant “freeing” each enterprise from the central plan. Each factory would be autonomous, and the central authority would only be able to influence production indirectly. Each enterprise would determine its activity in accordance with “economic calculation”—that is, according to profit and loss. This would establish the essential preconditions for a transition to a system of capitalist private property.

One need not be a Trotskyist to understand the meaning of the “self-management” proposed by Solidarność. Garton Ash summarized it as follows: “The ‘socialised enterprise’ would ‘act independently on the basis of economic accountancy’ (i.e. making a profit).” 29 Lawrence Weschler observed:

“There are various schemes for samorzad, but the basic idea goes something like this: the enterprise (factory, publishing house, airline, or whatever) would be the communal property of the workers who run it. (Today, it belongs to the state, which, in turn, supposedly—but only supposedly—belongs to the workers.) The workers would elect a representative council, subject to continuing review as well as recall, and the council would appoint a manager, who would be responsible to the council alone. The state would exercise its influence through economic instruments (taxes, duties, investment credits, etc.) or normative laws (regulations, pollution standards, etc.), but otherwise it would stay out and allow the free play of the market to rationalize the economy.” 30

The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries in the Soviet Union did not openly advocate returning the means of production to the bourgeoisie—they just wanted to open things up a bit for market forces. When the centrally-administered economy is broken down into autonomous units whose interactions are governed by “economic calculation,” collectivized property ceases to exist in anything but name. Writing in 1928 Trotsky anticipated the essence of Solidarność’s self-management as a critical moment in the transition back to the market economy.

“The trusts and individual factories will begin living an independent life. Not a trace will be left of the planned beginnings, so weak at the present time. The economic struggle of the workers will acquire a scope unrestricted save by the relation of forces. The state ownership of the means of production will be first transformed into a juridical fiction, and later on, even the latter will be swept away.” 31

We have met a few “deep thinkers” among the hordes of ostensibly “Soviet defensist” pseudo-Trotskyists who attempt to alibi Solidarność’s openly pro-capitalist program by pointing to the market-oriented “perestroika” currently sweeping the Soviet bloc. They are prepared to concede that Walesa et al were counterrevolutionary and pro-capitalist, but argue that the Stalinists are no better.

Trotskyists oppose Gorbachev’s “market socialism” proposals precisely because they will strengthen internal restorationist forces. But it is necessary to make a distinction between proposals put forward by people like Walesa who are openly linked to the imperialists ideologically and practically, and those advanced by Stalinist bureaucrats whose privileges derive from their role as custodians of nationalized property. The bureaucracy engenders and promotes restorationist currents, but it cannot, as a whole, embrace capitalism without abolishing its own social function and liquidating itself. Walesa, the clerical hierarchy, the private farmers and the pro-imperialist “socialists” of KOR have no similar attachment to the planning principle. 32

Solidarność Rejects Socialist Fig Leaf

Lest there be any doubt concerning the thrust of Solidarność’s economic proposals, it is instructive to note the reaction of the congress on what may have been the only two occasions when the word “socialism” was even mentioned. Timothy Garton Ash notes:

“The word ‘socialism’ does not appear in the Programme. The intellectuals’ first draft had acknowledged a debt to ‘socialist social thought’ beside Christian ethics, national traditions and democratic politics: the democratic debate dropped the adjective ‘socialist’.” 33

On the second occasion, Professor Edward Lipinski, a founder of KOR and long associated with Pilsudski’s pre-war Polish Socialist Party (PPS), announced the disbandment of KOR and denounced the government for betraying the ‘socialist ideals’ of his youth. A motion was proposed thanking KOR for its contributions to Solidarność, but a counter-resolution moved by one Niezgodzki rejected even this incidental reference. Touraine explains:

“The Niezgodzki motion was a clear expression of nationalism hostile to the KOR. and was understood as such by everyone, especially since it was widely known that Masovia [Niezgodzki’s home district] had been the scene of various violent arguments between ‘true Poles’ and militants close to the KOR.” 34

The Polish Socialist Party, whose traditions Lipinski nostalgically invoked, was a social-democratic, Polish nationalist formation, which the real founders of Polish Marxism, Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches, fought against for most of their lives. But even this brand of “socialism” was apparently objectionable to a majority of conference delegates. Episodes like this give the lie to claims concerning the existence of any significant left-wing opposition within Solidarność. The only discernible opposition to Walesa and his advisers in KOR to emerge from this congress came clearly from the right.

The Political Program: Bourgeois Pluralism and “Democracy”

The Solidarność congress did not concern itself exclusively with economics. Over a hundred years ago, Marx and Engels declared that the struggle of the proletariat for its emancipation is, above all, a political struggle. No less political, we should remember, is the struggle of the counterrevolution against the historic advances of the working class. The forces of reaction seldom pursue their aims solely under the banner of private property in the means of production. In any society where the majority do not own factories, banks or landed estates, the appeal of such a slogan is understandably limited. This is why the bourgeoisie typically masks its intentions with phrases of more popular resonance. The rallying cries of God, Family, Church and Nation are potent weapons in the ideological arsenal of reaction even today. Better suited to a secular age, however, are the abstract platitudes about Freedom, Democracy, Pluralism and Human Rights with which the imperialists wage their global, anti-communist crusade.

We are intransigently opposed to the Stalinist bureaucracy’s monopoly over the political life of the degenerate and deformed workers states. When, however, “freedom” and “democracy” are invoked against Stalinist regimes, we are no less obliged than in capitalist countries to apply the basic Marxist political criteria and ask: democracy for whom? freedom to what end? In the deformed and degenerated workers states, Trotskyists fight for workers democracy—the right of all working-class groups and tendencies to express their views in furtherance of the common aims of the class. It does not include “freedom” for a pro-capitalist press to spread deliberate lies or “freedom” for the White Guards, Black Hundreds or their latter-day disciples to incite pogroms. Marxists do not recognize the “right” of the CIA and other agencies of the capitalist states to make “black propaganda” and hatch political intrigues east of the Elbe. Democracy, when divorced from its class content, is invariably a weapon in the hands of the class enemy. Yet it is precisely such a supra-class definition of democracy that Solidarność inscribed in its political program.

Section VI of the program adopted by the Solidarność congress outlines a proposal for a “Self-Governed Republic.” Thesis 19 is entitled “Pluralism of social, political and cultural ideas must form the basis of democracy in the self-governed republic.” Subpoint one announced:

“we shall struggle both for a change in state structures and for the development of independent, self-governing institutions in every field of social life….We consider that pluralism, democracy and the full enjoyment of constitutional rights provide the guarantee that the workers’ efforts and sacrifices will not be wasted once again.”

Subpoint four spelled out the proposal for bourgeois pluralism:

“We hold that the principles of pluralism should apply to political life. Our union will assist and protect civil initiatives which seek to propose different socio-political and economic programs to society.”

Various fake-Trotskyists promote the notion that such “democratic” formulas resemble Trotsky’s program for political revolution in the Soviet Union. Ernest Mandel’s “United Secretariat of the Fourth International” even proposes that workers states can best insure themselves against counterrevolution and/or bureaucratic degeneration by guaranteeing the rights of bourgeois parties to organize! In 1927, in the midst of the struggle against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky explicitly rejected such classless criteria for democracy in a workers state:

“The Mensheviks think that the main source of Bonapartist danger is the system of proletarian dictatorship itself, that it is a fundamental error to count on the international revolution, that a correct policy would necessarily be to abandon political and economic restriction on the bourgeoisie, and that salvation from Thermidor and Bonapartism lies in democracy, i.e. in the bourgeois parliamentary system….

“Parliamentary democracy for us is only one of the forms of capitalist rule.” 35

In the 1938 Transitional Program Trotsky returned to the question of the class character of democracy in a workers state:

“It is necessary to return to the soviets not only their free democratic form but also their class content. As once the bourgeoisie and kulaks were not permitted to enter the soviets, so now it is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and the new aristocracy out of the soviets. In the soviets there is room only for representatives of the workers, rank-and-file collective farmers, peasants and Red Army men.” 36

KPN: Sinister Reaction Gaining Ground

The meaning of Solidarność’s “democratic” credo becomes more concrete when we consider some of the organizations and individuals sheltered under its “pluralistic” umbrella. Although the Solidarność leadership did not itself espouse the anti-Semitism so closely intertwined with Poland’s nationalist traditions, the same cannot be said for the Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPN). Oliver MacDonald describes the KPN as belonging to “the endecja current—reactionary Catholic anti-Communist nationalism of an anti-semitic and strongly authoritarian character.” It entertained hopes of liquidating the Communists and establishing a new authoritarian regime embodying the “true Polish ethnic spirit.” 37

The leader of the KPN was one Leszek Moczulski, whose career confirms Trotsky’s prediction that elements of the bureaucracy would be found on both sides of the barricades in the event of a second civil war in the Soviet Union. Moczulski did not wait for the advent of civil war. After playing a leading role in an ugly anti-Semitic purge in the PUWP in 1968, he parted ways with Polish Stalinism to assume a prominent position in the KPN, and was subsequently imprisoned by the regime.

The same Solidarność congress that deliberately refrained from any mention of socialism passed a resolution calling for the release of Moczulski and other KPN prisoners. This is hardly surprising, since this ultra-nationalist, Pilsudskiite outfit was a participant in the proceedings. Garton Ash reports that at the congress the KPN “was gaining increasingly vocal support. Weary of Solidarity’s self-censorship and peering into the apparent power vacuum, many workers were drawn to the KPN’s clear, explicit programme.” 38 In such situations a determined minority with a definite program can quickly become a factor of tremendous importance.

Solidarność’s “democratic” rubric was very flexible indeed. Flexible enough, apparently, to include the open exponents of white terror. The question of the democratic rights of the counter-revolutionaries of the KPN is part of a larger question posed by Solidarność—how to respond to situations where the democratic rights of the working class to organize collide with the preservation of collectivized property. For Trotskyists it is simple: there is a hierarchy of principles. The defense of collectivized property takes precedence over the “democratic rights” of pro-capitalist currents to organize.

Solidarność and the “AFL-CIA”

Other champions of “free world democracy” who were invited to participate in the congress included anti-communist AFL-CIO representatives Lane Kirkland and Irving Brown. Kirkland, in addition to heading the AFL-CIO, is also a director of the CIA labor front, the “American Institute for Free Labor Development,” which oversees the breaking of leftist unions throughout Latin America. He also is a member of the “Committee on the Present Danger,” a Reaganite anti-Soviet think-tank.

And as for Irving Brown, Walesa would not have had to consult Philip Agee’s revelations of CIA activity in post-war Europe to recognize Brown’s contributions. The recent Contragate hearings proudly cited Tom Braden’s “I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral,” which explained that when Brown ran out of funds from the ILGWU for setting up Force Ouvriere in France, an appeal was made to the CIA. Thus began the secret subsidy of “free” (i.e.. anti-communist) trade unions.

Solidarność’s invitation to Kirkland and Brown (and the snubbing of the Stalinist unions) places the slogan “free trade unions” in its proper Cold War context. This is confirmed by the various provocative, anti-Soviet declarations made by the congress. It addressed an open letter to Poles living abroad, which according to Alain Touraine, “was obviously meant for those living in what is now part of the Soviet Union.” This appeal stated, “Solidarity is not only a trade union, but also a social movement of thinking citizens wishing to work for Poland’s independence.” The congress also addressed a “Message to all the workers of Eastern Europe,” telling “the workers of Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, the GDR and all the nations of the Soviet Union” that its aim was to fight for a better life for all working people. “We support those amongst you who have decided to choose the difficult path of fighting for a free trade-union movement. We believe that in the not too distant future our representatives will be able to meet in order to exchange our experience as trade unionists.” 39

Of course in the nature of things, “free” trade unions don’t come for free. Solidarność’s subsidy from the AFL-CIO—$300,000 and its first printing press—was no secret. Tamara Deutscher astutely commented:

“The printing presses were a gift sent by Western trade unionists who also provided financial assistance to the Poles. The principal benefactors included both the [British] TUC and the AFL-CIO. One cannot help recalling that in 1926 it was the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions which offered striking workers in Britain over a quarter-million rubles in solidarity aid. But the offer was rejected because the General Council of the TUC feared the odium which might attach to the acceptance of “Soviet gold?” 40

Solidarność felt no equivalent scruples about taking money from the imperialists and their labor lieutenants. In August 1987 when the U.S. Congress voted $1 million to Solidarność, Walesa once again was glad to accept.

V. Marxism and “Mass Movements”

Various ostensibly Trotskyist currents defend Solidarność while admitting that its program was pro-capitalist and that important sections of its leadership were consciously restorationist. In 1982 the British Workers Power grouping enumerated the characteristics of “the dominant tendencies in Solidarność” as follows:

“a) Subordination to the Catholic hierarchy which fought to implement its own anti-working class programme throughout the crisis….

“b) Illusions in the bankrupt policies of Polish nationalism….the character of Polish nationalist ideology has to be defined as overwhelmingly reactionary….

“c) It has a programme for the Polish economy that could strengthen the forces of capitalist restoration….

“d) Crippling illusions in Western Imperialism….

“e) Its strategy for advance left the central levers of Stalinist power intact, but hoped instead to encroach on that power through its points of least resistance….” 41

Notwithstanding these counterrevolutionary characteristics (with the exception of point “e” which has more the quality of a tactical criticism), Workers Power concludes that it is necessary to “solidarise with Solidarność” because:

“The existence of a mass base, often raising demands in conflict with the aims and intentions of the Solidarność leaders, clearly reveals that, despite its leadership, Solidarność was not a counter-revolutionary organisation per se. It was, and if it survives, could well continue to be, a dynamic movement, rife with contradictions but possessing the potential of resolving them in the direction of political revolution, given the intervention within it of revolutionaries.” 42

The duty of revolutionists is to tell the truth—not to ascribe “revolutionary” dynamics to reactionary political movements. In following the leadership of Solidarność, the bulk of the Polish workers were acting against their own historic class interests. In a deformed workers state, a mass movement hegemonized by capitalist restorationists can have no progressive dynamic—regardless of the extent of its popular support. Leninists do not idealize the masses. Trotsky’s polemic against Victor Serge on the question of the degeneration of the Soviet regime in the 1920’s is a powerful indictment of those like Workers Power who worship at the altar of the “mass base.”

“Victor Serge has disclosed in passing what caused the collapse of the Bolshevik party: excessive centralism….More confidence in the masses, more freedom! All this is outside time and space. But the masses are by no means identical: there are revolutionary masses, there are passive masses, there are reactionary masses. The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralized organization of the vanguard is indispensable….To invest the mass with traits of sanctity and to reduce one’s program to amorphous “democracy”, is to dissolve oneself in the class as it is, to turn from a vanguard into a rearguard, and by this very thing, to renounce revolutionary tasks. On the other hand, if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the class is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself.” 43

Poland and Iran

In The Summer Before the Frost Potel described the role of religion at Gdansk during the period before the crackdown:

“At five o’clock every evening, between 2,000 and 3,000 workers gathered around the shipyard gate for a religious service. Every Sunday an enormous crowd gathered to celebrate mass. Meditation, simplicity. Around a makeshift altar they sang old hymns, asking God to give them more strength. From both sides of the gate, the strikers and their families prayed for victory and for support from the whole of Poland. The daily service was sacrosanct. It was a public display of that religious freedom that had been part of the workers’ demands. People went there as a matter of course.” 44

Potel comments, “One was reminded of the power of the Shi’ite hierarchy in Iran, and the strength of Islam.” It is no accident that many of those same leftists who saluted Walesa’s Solidarność had earlier detected a similar objectively “revolutionary” dynamic in Khomeini’s mass mobilizations. In both Iran and Poland there were mass movements, embracing the overwhelming majority of the proletariat, hegemonized by consciously counterrevolutionary leaderships. This is not to say that every layer of the masses (much less every individual) involved in these movements was conscious of where their leadership was taking them. In Iran the left eagerly participated in the mullah-led mobilizations. Yet the false strategy of political subordination to Khomeini and his fanatics could only end in disaster for those leftists who embraced it.

Iranian revolutionists should have participated in the massive strike wave against the shah with a perspective of forming a pole of hard proletarian opposition to the reactionary mullahs. In Iran the centrists were transfixed by the breadth of the “mass movement,” and trailed along behind the mullahs’ counterrevolutionary mobilizations. By chanting “allah akbar” along with the misled plebian masses, the left objectively aided the victory of the theocratic reaction which was soon to turn on the workers movement.

Ten Million Polish Workers Can’t Be Wrong?

Last spring we received a letter from Workers Power which declared (in regard to Poland) that: “We reject the position that a mass proletarian based movement could ever have become the agent of capitalist restoration.” 45 Armed with this centrist conception of politics. Workers Power supported Khomeini’s movement in Iran in 1978-79—after all, it too had the bulk of the working class behind it!

The doctrine that the workers in the deformed and degenerated workers states are in their aggregate permanently immune to false consciousness is workerism, not Marxism. It presumes that capitalist restoration in these states can only occur through external military conquest. The tragedy of Poland is that the corrupt and anti-socialist PUWP bureaucracy managed to undermine the workers’ loyalty to the system of nationalized property. If Workers Power rules out the possibility of widespread reactionary attitudes emerging in a Stalinist state, how can it account for the (initially) warm welcome received by Hitler’s armies in the Ukraine in 1941? Or the tremendous popularity of the Roman Catholic church in Poland today?

Marxists determine the political character of mass social movements on the basis of their leadership, social composition, trajectory and political program—not by the illusions or subjective intentions of their plebian base. But the peculiar alchemy of revisionist “Trotskyism” consists precisely in this: any popular social movement against the Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern Europe is transformed into a force for proletarian political revolution. The key question—for or against nationalized property—is generally ignored. Yet in the case of Polish Solidarność, this was fundamental. In the months following the September congress, Solidarność was propelled by events into a collision course with the Polish regime, in which the stakes were nothing less than state power.

VI. Toward the Abyss

During October 1981 food shortages sparked a series of wildcat strikes across Poland. When the Stalinists offered a “mixed commission” of government and union representatives to discuss the question, Solidarność accepted, but warned that if no satisfactory progress was made by 22 October, the union would launch a national strike. The two sides met on 15 October, and chief Solidarność negotiator Grzegorz Palka proposed the creation of a Social Council for the National Economy. This council, to be appointed by Solidarność “in co-operation with representatives of the world of art and science and the church,” was to “co-operate” with the government “in determining economic policy and development.” Tygodnik Solidarność (30 October 1981) characterized this proposal as “breaking through the crisis of confidence in government-society relations by setting up institutions guaranteeing society’s control over government economic policy.” Equally important was Palka’s demand that, “The council should be able to communicate with the public at large through the mass media, that is, the press, radio and television.” 46 Solidarność proposed to institutionalize dual power in the economy while removing the prime remaining political asset of the regime—its monopoly of information. The PUWP flatly rejected this proposal.

On 20 October in Katowice police used tear gas against a crowd of several thousand. The incident was touched off when plainclothesmen attempted to arrest a vendor who “had a regular stall on Market Square, selling photographs of Marshal Pilsudski and the graves at Katyn, KPN badges and a booklet entitled Under Soviet Partition, as well as regular union publications.” 47 On this occasion, Solidarity militants tried to reduce the tension and shielded the police from the angry protesters. The next day in Wroclaw, the police arrested three Solidarność members who were speaking from a mobile van.

In response to these confrontations, as well as to the rejection of its earlier demands, the Solidarność leadership called for a national one-hour warning strike on 28 November. The resolution threatened that if the government did not move to “grant the appropriate powers to the social national economy council and to the union’s social control commissions” by the end of the month:

“the union will be compelled to prepare and undertake an active strike in selected sectors of the economy. The date and scope of the strike will be defined by the KK [Solidarność’s National Commission]. At the same time, the KK calls on all regions and plants to terminate protest actions now in progress and to join in the nationwide action.” 48

Some of Solidarność’s defenders point to the national leadership’s attempts to defuse various wildcat strikes as evidence Walesa was a sell-out bureaucrat in league with the Stalinists against a militant rank-and-file base. There were certainly tremendous strains within Solidarność at every level, which were reflected in heated polemics; but these were tactical disagreements. Solidarność’s leadership was united in recognizing that the explosion of uncontrolled strikes was eroding their position in the struggle with the authorities. On 27 October the Presidium of Solidarność issued a statement denouncing the spontaneous local strike actions:

“The KK Presidium assesses the current economic and social situation of the country as critical. On the one hand, many issues are unresolved; there are many irregularities and provocations, which arouse universal indignation. On the other hand, the protest actions have assumed an elemental, unorganized character. This threatens the disintegration of the union and loss of public support.


“…Nobody can take from us the right to strike, and we shall never allow this. But it is we who must programme the use of this weapon, and we must do this in a considered, planned way.

“With the strength of the whole union, we must deal in the immediate future with those matters which are most important for the whole nation: food, economic reform, social control of the economy and access to the mass media. Perhaps in these matters we will have to make use of our ultimate weapon. In a situation of general chaos it will be an ineffective weapon.

“At the next session of the KK the Presidium will submit a proposal for an intraunion limitation of the right to strike and for the determining of union means of disciplining those who are guilty of weakening the unity and discipline of the union.” 49

Some ostensible Trotskyists who have taken a position in defense of Solidarność have argued that, by the fall of 1981, popular support had diminished to the point where there was no real danger to the regime. There is plenty of evidence that the ranks were exhibiting increasing impatience with the apparent inability of the leadership to resolve the impasse. Yet the response to the 28 October strike call demonstrates that the leadership, headed by Walesa, still enjoyed immense popular support—particularly when they took the initiative against the regime.

“Two contrasting views have been expressed about public opinion in these last months. Several outside observers, and Polish officials, suggest that a growing proportion of the public was increasingly disgruntled with the recurrent strikes, disillusioned with the histrionic feuding of Solidarity activists, who, it is further suggested, were much more ‘radical’ than the rank-and-file. Solidarity activists say that, on the contrary, rank-and-file members were much more ‘radical’ than they….The fact is that both sets of attitudes were present in what was now a confused and a physically exhausted public. Radicalisation and disgruntlement were two faces of the same predicament: what becomes desperation in one becomes despair in another.

“Their behaviour, however, was open to only one interpretation. The turn-out for the one-hour general strike on 28 October was as massive as for the last such manifestation, on 27 March, seven months before. Once again, Poland had decked herself out in the national colours like a country going to war….if there was an erosion of Solidarity’s popularity it was the erosion of Mount Everest. It is hard to think of any other union or social movement in the world which could command such massive, disciplined, voluntary, popular support.

“Small wonder the union leaders were overconfident! And being so, they provided a poor example of unity and discipline for their members.” 50

The 28 October warning strike did not mark the end of strike activity. The Stalinist Sejm’s demand in late October that strikes cease was ignored:

“Strikes continued to take place in Zyrardow, Zielona Gora, Tarnobrzeg and Sosnowiec. On Walesa’s intervention the 120,000 workers in Tarnobrzeg suspended their strike on 1 November. An agreement was reached with 200,000 striking workers in Zielona Gora on 9 November, but the strike alarm continued.” 51

On 4 November, at the behest of Cardinal Glemp, Walesa and Jaruzelski met in Warsaw and discussed the possibility of forming a Front of National Accord. Further meetings were held in the weeks that followed, but they ultimately foundered on the refusal of the government to grant Solidarność a veto over any decisions reached by such a joint commission, and the demand that the Social Council which Palka had proposed on 15 October have unrestricted access to the media.

On 22 November, the police aborted a meeting of some sixty Solidarność activists at Kuron’s flat called to launch an organization known as “Clubs for a Self-Governing Republic: Freedom, Justice, Independence.” A declaration issued by the “Clubs” argued that in the existing crisis of Polish society:

“…It is essential to create ideological-political formations. There [sic] are the nuclei of future political parties in a democratic state. At this time we are of the opinion that the only way to maintain unity is through sober discussion of political differences, public agreements and openly formulated programmes. Only in this way is it possible to implement, in a spirit of unity, the basic social aims proclaimed in the programme of Solidarity and, at the same time, to construct a democratic and therefore also differentiated society.” 52

The declaration went on to reiterate KOR’s counterrevolutionary demand for “a system of parliamentary democracy” and asserted that the state should guarantee “the right to, and development of, private property.” It identified itself “with the traditions of the Polish Socialist Party and the Polish peasants’ movement” and provocatively saluted the leaders of those movements (e.g., Pilsudski) “who led the struggle for independence and sovereignty at the time of the gravest threat to a reborn Poland when the armies of Bolshevik Russia approached the vicinity of Warsaw.” This attempt to organize an explicitly pro-capitalist social-democratic political party was denounced by the Stalinists as an attempt “to propagate and defend activity against the foundations of the political system of our state.” 53

Self-Management Movement: the Question of Power

While the negotiations had been going on between Solidarność leaders and the government, the self-management movement was active at the union’s base. In November, according to Raina:

“For weeks now the Network had been holding referendums and organizing the workforce to elect independent workers’ councils or factory committees empowered to control or influence the decision-making process in the enterprises. The Network’s campaign against the party’s former and now defunct self-management system was so effective that thousands of party members (workers) handed in their party cards. For example, at the Poznan Cegielski plant over 800 party members, one-half the total strength, had resigned from the party by the middle of November. The resignations were so widespread that in many enterprises basic party cells ceased to exist altogether. Not without bitterness did the official sources complain that in twenty-one of Poland’s forty-nine voivodships the Solidarity Network had demanded the ‘removal of party organizations from industrial enterprises.’ ” 54

Solidarność’s self-management scheme lay at the core of its proposals for “reforming” the Polish economy. But in a planned economy, where politics and economics are inextricably fused, any self-management “reform” would have major political implications. Alain Touraine’s interviews with the leading Solidarność activists graphically illustrated the connection between the economic and political aspects of self-management. A technician in Warsaw drew up the following chart:

Touraine summarizes:

“The Gdansk Agreement, he said, had freed the trade unions, and since then, and especially since the spring of 1981, the union’s central preoccupation had been self-management, in other words, the liberation of the enterprise. But the nature of the Polish economy meant that any action at factory level inevitably entailed action at the general economic level, since the autonomy of the individual enterprise presupposed general economic reform, an end to the centrally administered economy and its replacement by a rational price structure and a free market system. Finally, once it had rebuilt the political system, Solidarity must attempt to restore the true independence of the country.” 55

As autumn gave way to winter, the tensions within the leadership of Solidarność increased. Polish society was racked by a deep social crisis which had to be resolved one way or the other. The Solidarność leadership was polarized between the “militants” who thought the time was right for confrontation—in the first instance through a strategy of “active strikes” to take over individual factories—and Walesa and the “moderates” (supported by the clerical hierarchy) who thought further concessions could be wrested from the tottering regime through negotiation and maneuvering.

The complex interactions between the “radicals” pushing for active strikes and formation of a Solidarność militia, and the “moderates” headed by Walesa who thought there were concessions to be wrung from the regime are sketched in “Solidarity on the Eve” by Zbigniew Kowalewski. Kowalewski was reportedly influenced by the United Secretariat. Today he provides the “left face” of Solidarność in exile. 56 (His account, which originally appeared in the Spring 1982 issue of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, is reprinted in The Solidarity Sourcebook.)

Kowalewski recounts how in November-December 1981, he and local leaders in Lodz attempted to launch a series of “active strikes.” These “active strikes” were an offensive tactic aimed at seizing control in the plants and wrenching them away from the central authorities as the first moment in a struggle for state power. Kowalewski explains that the active strike tactic was designed to circumvent the Walesa leadership in mobilizing the ranks for a confrontation with the Stalinist regime:

“In Lodz, then, they decided on action to deprive the bureaucracy of its economic power and to install a system of workers’ self-management by revolutionary means. It was planned that the first active strike would begin in our region on December 21—that is, that the working class would take control of production and distribution. At the same time, workers’ guards were to be established in the enterprise.


“Within the regional Solidarity leadership, it was believed that a call for an active general strike would not be approved by a majority of the national union leadership. It was therefore decided that if Andrzej Slowik met with opposition, he should demand the go-ahead from the national committee for an active strike in his own region. It seemed likely that Lodz would then draw other regions into an active strike, and that this would sooner or later change the balance of forces on the national committee.

“The strategy and struggle tactics proposed by Solidarity to solve the question of power might have been adopted by the whole union. The active strike would have allowed the masses, then searching for radical forms of action, to pass on to the offensive. The establishment of workers’ economic power would have allowed the accumulation of sufficient forces to solve the question of political power.” 57

Those ostensibly Trotskyist groupings who attempt a defense of Solidarność frequently depict the “self-management movement” (and particularly the KZ-KFS grouping which detached itself from Network in the fall of 1981) as the embodiment of a left proletarian opposition to both the Stalinists and the clericalist Walesa leadership. This is unfounded. While critical of the tactics of the Walesa leadership, and the market plans of Network’s technocratic “experts,” it is clear from Kowalewski’s account that he had no fundamental differences with the “self-management” proposal adopted by the congress. For example, he approvingly notes, “the congress clearly expressed its intention to carry on the struggle for genuine workers’ self-management supporting the struggle of workers even when they go outside those laws” (i.e., the laws adopted by the Stalinist-dominated Sejm). He also endorses the decision of the congress “that self-management organs should control the enterprise, that the director was only there to implement their decisions.” 58

The Smoking Tapes of Radom

“Confrontation is inevitable and it will take place. I wanted to get to this confrontation in a natural way, when virtually all social groups would be with us. However, I have miscalculated….I thought that we would progress further and that we would then overthrow this parliament, those councils and so forth. It turns out that we will not move along this road any further. So we are picking a road for a lightning-speed maneuver.

“After all, let us realize that we are bringing this system down. Let us at last realize this. If we agree to have private storekeepers, buy up state farms and ensure complete self-management, this system will cease to exist….

“We should not say aloud that a confrontation is unavoidable. In such talks it is merely a question of who outsmarts whom, but we are outsmarting ourselves. We must say: We love you, we love socialism and the party and, obviously, the Soviet Union. But at the same time we must keep doing our work through faits accomplis and wait…

“People must be taken into confidence to some extent and told what game we are playing. They should be told that we are playing for such high stakes that we are changing realities in general and that this game can only end in one way. No change of system can take place without blows being exchanged….”
—Lech Walesa, remarks to a meeting of the national leadership of Solidarność, 3-4 December 1981 59

In the days that followed the Radom meeting, the Stalinist authorities repeatedly played excerpts from the Solidarność leadership’s supposedly secret meeting at Radom over national radio and television. By 13 December 1981 the whole country had heard Walesa admit that his posture of temporizing and conciliating was a ploy. When Walesa was asked about the authenticity of the tapes, he merely replied that his remarks had been taken out of context. The New York Times reported that “Mr. Walesa was particularly embarrassed; millions heard him say that he had believed in the inevitability of confrontation all along and was secretly working toward it (an admission not borne out by the facts but seemingly aimed at re-establishing his credentials with Solidarity militants).” 60 At the very least Walesa’s remarks demonstrate that he was being pushed into a confrontationist posture by the predominance of the “militants” in the national leadership.

Zbigniew Bujak was among those at the Radom meeting who opposed a strategy of waiting and deception. He proposed that the social council demanded by Solidarność would be “something like a provisional national government. The government must at last be overthrown, laid bare and stripped of all credibility.” He also proposed that the Solidarność militia (which Grzegorz Palka wanted to establish on a national basis) should “liberate” the radio and TV networks. Jan Rulewski stated, “We are fighting to set up a provisional government which would stabilize the country until elections are held….” 61

Solidarność’s Eve of Destruction

On December 11 and 12, the Solidarność National Committee held what was to be its last meeting. The only decision reached was to conduct a national referendum on the following four questions:

“1. Are you in favor of a vote of confidence in General Jaruzelski?

“2. Are you for establishing a temporary government and free elections?

“3. Are you for providing military guarantees to the Soviet Union in Poland?

“4. Can the Polish Communist Party be the instrument of such guarantees in the name of the whole society?” 62

Kowalewski provided the most comprehensive account of the final deliberations of the leadership:

“The last meeting of the national committee, held on December 12, revealed a convergence of views between Lodz and other regions. The representative of Krakow region put forward the following action program for Solidarity:

“a) The national committee…shall draft a set of bills and other legislative measures relating to the economic reform. The proposed economic model should be put to a referendum in the enterprises, so that the support of society may be obtained as quickly as possible.

“b) During the general strike, the union will begin to apply the economic reform….

“c) The union shall call off the strike when the economy is functioning at every level according to the new principles.

“d) These goals can only be achieved if the union has access to the mass media. The national committee shall declare an active strike in the radio and television, the press, the printing houses and the press distribution sector, so that these means of communication are placed at the service of society.” 63

This “action program” represented the thinking of those associated with the KZ-KFS. In addition to the factories, they proposed to take over the press, radio and television through “active strikes” while organizing a Solidarność defense guard to deal with the army and police. The radicals were not the only ones with a plan of action:

“The moderate current advocated a different kind of tactic. Its main spokesperson, Jan Rulewski, the chairman of the Bydgoszcz region, argued that society and the state had entered a period of confrontation which had intensified since August, 1981. ‘This points to a general confrontation,’ he said, ‘which should culminate in a general strike, an active strike.’ The crisis of the state had to find ‘a political solution’ by looking to the experience of parliamentary democracies.


“The idea was that a referendum vote of no-confidence in the system would prompt Solidarity to declare a general strike. If the government did not then accept a political solution, it would be necessary to form a provisional government of independent experts whose tasks would be to organize free elections to the Sejm and other representative bodies, thereby assuring popular supremacy.” 64

Here we have the spectrum of opinion within Solidarność on the eve of Jaruzelski’s coup. The “radicals” wanted to initiate an immediate showdown while the “moderates” wanted to first hold a referendum vote of no-confidence in the regime, followed by a general strike. In the end:

“The national committee did not come down in favor of any of the proposed tactics. It was content to call for a referendum on the system and the form of rule….The debate remained open on the way in which the problem of power should be resolved….it was evident that whoever took the initiative and struck first would have the advantage in the event of a confrontation.” 65

VII. Revolution or Counterrevolution?

The pseudo-Trotskyist formations which sided with Solidarność did so out of a deeply ingrained Stalinophobic reflex. The centrists of Workers Power, who freely admit that the leadership of Solidarność was restorationist, defend them against the Stalinist countercoup on the grounds that Walesa et al could not have successfully taken power:

“for all the demagogic froth of Rulewski there is no evidence that he was urging, or that Solidarność was preparing an armed insurrection on the eve of Jaruzelski’s coup…. ‘the radicals’ expected a referendum to defend them and their notion of power sharing against the Stalinists. True, by December, leading militants were urging the formation of workers’ defence guards (Bujak and Palka, for example)….But the sporadic nature of the resistance to Martial Law underlines that there were no concrete and developed plans for Solidarność to organise to seize political power….” 66

This is a grotesque example of centrist logic-chopping. Workers Power defends Solidarność’s counterrevolutionary leadership against the Stalinists because there was no serious danger. But the reason Solidarność posed no danger was, as Kowalewski pointed out, that Jaruzelski struck before Bujak et al could “organize to seize political power”!

For Trotskyists the issue is not who struck the first blow. Our attitude toward those mobilizing to contest state power in a deformed workers state is determined not by their tactical competence or degree of preparation, but by their political program. All wings of Solidarność—radical and moderate—were committed to a capitalist-restorationist economic “reform.”

The PUWP was disintegrating and unable to consolidate a leadership with any popular support. It suffered massive desertions from its ranks to Solidarność. The economy was collapsing and Polish society was in the throes of an acute social crisis. A confrontation between Solidarność and the regime was, to quote Lech Walesa, “inevitable.” The cadre of 19,500 priests, in addition to the 40,000 full-time functionaries of Solidarność, could easily have stepped into the vacuum created by the successful toppling of the PUWP.

Walesa & co. did not display much finesse in the art of insurrection—but the threat they posed was very real, particularly given the active support they could reasonably have expected from the imperialist world. The Solidarność leadership underestimated the solidity of the army; but until it was brought into play, no one could be sure how the conscripts would react. Solidarność did command the allegiance of the overwhelming mass of the Polish population. Kowalewski remarks that the union leadership “fell victim to the illusion that this strength would be enough to neutralize the army.” 67 This was not entirely fanciful. In the police, “the Solidarity organization, despite the sacking of its leaders and non-recognition by the courts, claimed some 40,000 would-be members out of a total c. 150,000.” 68 Indeed, the assumption that the Polish army could not be counted on in any showdown with Solidarność was widely held. Raina reports: “The general public shared the view expressed by Slowo Powszechny. In its issue of 12 October [1981], marking Polish Army Day, the Catholic daily observed that ‘no one could count on using the Polish army against the reform-minded Polish workers’.” 69

The American Revolutionary Workers League (RWL) defends Solidarność—although with a slightly different rationalization. To our knowledge the RWL has not produced a comprehensive statement on Solidarność. However, one knowledgeable and authoritative RWL cadre told us that in December 1981 they would side with neither Jaruzelski nor Walesa, but would instead simply call for workers political revolution! In a polemic against Hugo Oehler in July 1939, Trotsky ridiculed those who “solve” difficult political problems by hypothetically projecting the existence of the most abstractly desirable circumstances. Trotsky had nothing but contempt for those:

“satisfied with logical deduction from a victorious revolution supposedly already achieved. But for a revolutionist the nub of the question lies precisely in how to clear a road to the revolution, how to render an approach to revolution easier for the masses, how to draw the revolution closer, how to assure its triumph. ‘if the workers carry through…’ a victorious revolution, everything will of course be fine. But just now there is no victorious revolution; instead there is victorious reaction.” 70

Hungary 1956 vs. Poland 1981

The political crisis of the Stalinist regime in Poland in 1981 was unlike any previous political confrontation between the East European workers and their bureaucratic rulers. It was the first time that any such revolt had significant direct connections with western imperialist agencies. The Polish workers were so repelled by the regime that large sections of them looked to the obscurantist Catholic hierarchy, and even the representatives of the imperialist “free world,” for deliverance. This critical distinction is routinely ignored by those supposed Trotskyists who glibly compare the Polish events with the workers uprising in Hungary in 1956.

We characterize the Hungarian rising of 1956 as an attempted proletarian political revolution. It is true that the regime headed by Imre Nagy showed significant motion to the right, bringing into government bourgeois politicians from the “popular-frontist” period of the late 1940’s. Faced with the Soviet invasion, Nagy even declared Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and appealed to the U.N. to defend Hungarian neutrality.

The presence of common demands and common social forces only serves to highlight the contrasts between Budapest in 1956 and Warsaw twenty-five years later. In Hungary, the bulk of the participants were explicitly opposed to any attempt at capitalist restoration. The clerical hierarchy, led by Cardinal Mindszenty, had relatively little influence and, like other overtly rightist forces, was regarded with hostility by the workers and the bulk of the intelligentsia.

While Nagy moved to the right as he slowly lost control amid the anarchy following Soviet intervention in October, workers councils—organized completely independently of the government—consolidated themselves around a perspective of “an independent, socialist Hungary.” These councils were led, for the most part, by former CP cadres in revolt against Stalinism.

When the Soviet army invaded Hungary for the second time on November 4, the Nagy regime immediately collapsed and Nagy and his close supporters fled to the Yugoslav embassy. Yet the workers councils remained an important political factor and Janos Kadar, who headed the regime imposed by Moscow, was forced to meet with their leadership to try to negotiate an end to the month-long general strike with which the Hungarian workers had greeted the Soviet invasion.

In the midst of the general strike, there was an attempt to link the workers councils into one authoritative central body. Some fifty delegates, representing all the various districts and major factories in and around Budapest, as well as a couple of provincial delegates, met to initiate the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest. Its initial declaration began:

“Today, 14 November 1956, the delegates from the District workers’ councils formed the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest. The Central Workers’ Council has been given the power to negotiate in the name of the workers in all the factories of Budapest, and to decide on the continuation of the strike or a return to work. We declare our unshaken loyalty to the principles of socialism. We regard the means of production as collective property which we are at all times ready to defend.”

The declaration included eight demands, including the return of Nagy as head of the government, the removal of the Soviet troops, the release of those imprisoned for resisting the Soviet invasion, and “the abolition of the one-party system and the recognition only of those parties which base themselves on socialism.” 71 A Trotskyist party could have fought within the councils for a government based on soviets, in opposition to Nagy.

At no point in the evolution of Solidarność, from a trade union to a national political movement struggling for “pluralism,” is it possible to point to any significant forces organized around the perspective of defending nationalized property. In Hungary the main protagonist—the workers council movement—openly declared its loyalty to the “principles of socialism.” Any attempt to identify the pro-socialist Hungarian workers councils of 1956 with the openly restorationist program of Solidarność in 1981 is profoundly false.

The Program of Political Revolution

Trotskyists deny the “right” of the workers to return Poland to capitalism. Similarly the democratic right of nations to self-determination (e.g., Poland vis-a-vis the USSR) is subordinate to the defense of collectivized property forms. Nor do we place our faith in the workings of some automatic “revolutionary process” which guarantees that everything will be okay in the end. In Poland the masses were in political motion, and the Stalinist state apparatus was crumbling—but this does not mean that a proletarian political revolution was in progress. The program of the workers party (or parties) is of critical importance to the outcome. To be supportable, any alternative leadership in a workers state must be committed to preserving the planned economy, monopoly of foreign trade, etc. This was simply not the case in Poland.

A Trotskyist opposition within Solidarność would have raised a program which would have included:

1. Immediate expulsion of the KPN and suppression of anti-Semitic, Pilsudskiite and any other pro-capitalist currents;

2. Active identification with Rosa Luxemburg and the heroic tradition of Polish communism;

3. Defense of the principle of central planning and centralized control of the economy under workers democracy; defense of the state monopoly of foreign trade—repudiation of the competitive “self-management” and “market equilibrium” proposals adopted by the Solidarność congress;

4. Separation of church and state—no privileged access for the Catholic hierarchy to the schools or media; an aggressive campaign for women’s liberation—including the right to divorce, to free abortion on demand and free access to contraceptives; active recruitment of women to political and state enterprise leadership;

5. Active solidarity with the PATCO strikers victimized by Reagan at the time of the Solidarność congress; military support to the insurgent Salvadoran leftists and all others in struggle against imperialism internationally;

6. Unconditional military defense of Poland, the USSR and the other non-capitalist states against imperialism and restorationist currents;

7. Severing connections with the pro-imperialist bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO, and repudiation of the provocative, anti-communist invitation to CIA-connected unionists Irving Brown and Lane Kirkland;

8. Severing all connections with the kulak Rural Solidarność; for the organization of poor peasants and agricultural laborers; explicit endorsement of socialized agriculture; for an immediate end to all state subsidies to the rural capitalists; abolition of the “right” to hire labor in agriculture and for a massive program of economic incentives to promote voluntary collectivization of individual holdings; and

9. For the creation of a nationwide network of workers councils to mobilize the proletariat for the overthrow of the Stalinist dictatorship through political revolution, in order to rejuvenate a centrally-planned economy directly administrated by workers soviets.

The tragic fact is that no faction in Solidarność advocated a single one of these programmatic points. While there were many heated debates and plenty of documents and resolutions, it is a simple fact that all significant currents in Solidarność were committed to the implementation of a “market reform.” A Trotskyist organization in Poland in 1981, with a base in the working class, would have waged a fight to purge the pro-capitalist leadership from the union. But there was no such current within Solidarność.

By the fall of 1981 Solidarność had become a capitalist-restorationist movement with both the social power and a leadership subjectively committed to topple the discredited and demoralized Stalinist regime. To call for defense of Solidarność was to call for defense of its counterrevolutionary cadre. We give military support to the Stalinists’ preemptive strike against the Solidarność leadership.

We do not give the Stalinists a blank check to curtail the democratic rights of the workers to organize, to meet to discuss politics, and to recompose themselves politically. We know that capitalist-restorationist currents can only be decisively defeated by workers political revolution which smashes the rule of the Stalinist parasites. But we do not identify the defense of the political rights of the Polish workers with the defense of Solidarność.

We value and seek to preserve and extend the political space won for the workers movement through the August 1980 strike which gave birth to Solidarność. In general we oppose Stalinist suppression of ideological dissidents, even pro-capitalist ones. Revolutionists also defend the existence of unions independent of the state even in healthy workers states.

Yet what separates the Trotskyists from Shachtmanites (i.e., “democratic socialist” anti-communists) is that we do not in the final analysis put “democratic rights” ahead of the defense of working-class property forms. In Poland in December 1981, one had to choose between the two, and we follow Trotsky:

“We must not lose sight for a single moment of the fact that the question of overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy is for us subordinate to the question of preserving state property in the means of production in the USSR; that the question of preserving state property in the means of production in the USSR is subordinate for us to the question of the world proletarian revolution.” 72

Jaruzelski’s crackdown of 13 December 1981 did nothing to solve the contradictions which gave rise to the crisis in Polish society, but it did arrest a dangerous restorationist mobilization. We have no illusions in the capacity of the Stalinists to protect, much less develop, nationalized property in Poland or elsewhere. Indeed the only guarantee against bourgeois restoration is through the victory of working-class political revolution which smashes the rule of the bureaucratic parasites.

We are for suppression of counterrevolution by a class-conscious workers movement. But Trotskyists cannot assume an attitude of neutrality in a showdown between a capitalist restorationist movement and a Stalinist state apparatus. In the midst of the Stalinist purge trials in 1937, Trotsky projected that:

“If the proletariat drives out the Soviet bureaucracy in time, then it will still find the nationalized means of production and the basic elements of the planned economy after its victory. This means that it will not have to begin from the beginning. That is a tremendous advantage!” 73

Appendix: Solidarność’s 1981 Program


1. Trotsky, Leon; “On the Conference of Left Socialist and Communist Organizations…”, Writings of Leon Trotsky (LTW) 1933-34, 1971, p. 62

2. Trotsky; In Defense of Marxism, 1970, p. 119

3. Ibid., p. 178

4. Trotsky; “The Class Nature of the Soviet State,” LTW 1933-34, p. 116

5. Trotsky; “Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?”, LTW 1937-38, 1976, p. 63-4

6. Trotsky; The Revolution Betrayed, 1972, p. 253

7. Potel, Jean-Yves; The Summer Before the Frost, 1982, p. 180

8. Potel, p. 186

9. Singer, Daniel; The Road to Gdansk, 1981, pp. 189-90

10. Fejto, Francois; A History of the People’s Democracies, 1974, pp. 438-9

11. Potel, p.91

12. Cviic, Christopher; in Poland: Genesis of a Revolution, A. Brumberg ed., 1983. p. 99

13. MacDonald, Oliver; “The Polish Vortex” in New Left Review, No. 139, May-June 1983, p. 28

14. Singer, pp. 190-1

15. Ascherson, Neil; The Polish August, 1981, p. 95

16. “Open Letter to Members of…the United Polish Workers Party…” in Revolutionary Marxist Students In Poland Speak Out, 1968, pp. 86-7

17. quoted in Workers Vanguard, No. 263, 5 September 1980

18. Touraine, p. 113

19. Touraine, Alain; Solidarity: The Analysis of a Social Movement, 1984, p.159

20. Garton Ash, Timothy; The Polish Revolution. 1983. p. 19

21. Michnik, Adam; Letters From Prison, 1985, p. 124

22. The Book of Lech Walesa, 1982, pp. 192-3, cited in MacDonald

23. MacDonald, p. 36

24. Uncensored Poland News Bulletin, 14 November 1985

25. Weschler, Lawrence; The Passion of Poland, 1984, p.60

26. Garton Ash, p. 222

27. Touraine, p. 142

28. Potel, pp. 186-7

29. Carton Ash, p. 227

30. Weschler, p. 68

31. Trotsky; Third International After Lenin, 1936, p. 300

32. Workers Vanguard, 8 January 1982, reported an article in the 16 December 1981 issue of Le Canard Enchaine, a French satirical magazine, which claimed that in mid-October 1981 Lech Walesa met secretly in Paris with a cabal of high-ranking American corporate executives who had flown in two hours earlier in a chartered plane. Present were:

“…Philip Caldwell, president of Ford; Robert Tirby, president of Westinghouse: David Lewis, ditto for General Dynamics; Henry Heinz, representing the food/agriculture group of the same name, and Thomas Watson, an IBM bigwig. Plus a T.W.A. VIP and several potentates of only slightly lesser importance, banking and life-insurance chairmen….

“All this crowd for Lech Walesa, considered a veritable head of a shadow government. The introductions are rapid and discussion begins. A system of simultaneous translation is in place, proof that on the American side, in any case, the interview was not totally improvised.” According to this report, among the questions put to Walesa by these captains of industry and finance were: “Are you prepared to give up your Saturdays off?” “Do Polish workers know how to work and are they ready to?” “Is it the end of Marxist-Leninist ideology in Poland?” “Do you wish the Communist party to remain in power?”

33. Garton Ash, p. 225

34. Touraine, p. 144

35. Trotsky; The Challenge of the Left Opposition 1926-27, 1980, p. 492

36. Trotsky; The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, 1973, p. 105

37. MacDonald, pp. 28-9

38. Garton Ash, p. 216

39. Touraine, p. 140

40. New Left Review, No. 125, January-February 1981, p. 65

41. Workers Power; “Revolution and Counter-revolution in Poland,” July 1982, pp. 10-11

42. Ibid., pp. 11-12

43. Trotsky; “The Moralists and Sycophants Against Marxism,” Their Morals and Ours, 1969, pp. 44-5

44. Potel, pp. 82-3

45. Workers Power to Bolshevik Tendency, 2 April 1987

46. Raina, Peter, Poland 1981, 1985, pp. 423, 430-1

47. Garton Ash, p. 249

48. Raina, p. 431

49. Ibid., pp. 432-3

50. Garton Ash, p. 250

51. Raina, p. 435

52. Ibid., p. 446

53. Ibid., pp. 448, 450, 452

54. Ibid., p. 453

55. Touraine, p. 88

56. Kowalewski’s politics are overtly “third camp,” a term coined by Max Shachtman (who led a split from the Trotskyist movement in 1940), to describe his position of neutrality in conflicts between imperialism and the U.S.S.R. In the September-October 1986 issue of Against the Current, an American Shachtmanite publication, Kowalewski approvingly quotes Hal Draper (a leading member of Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League) in 1951 calling for “a democratic revolution in a collectivized system.” In this article Kowalewski chastises those who “continue to believe in even the claimed superiority of ‘really existing socialism’ and the ‘proletarian conquests’ which are supposedly contained in it.” There is a certain internal consistency to Kowalewski’s position—which is more than can be said for most of Solidarność’s “Trotskyist” supporters. His denial that there is anything to defend in the collectivized economies is of a piece with his continuing advocacy of the market-oriented self-management scheme put forward at Solidarność’s congress.

57. Kowalewski, Zbigniew; “Solidarity on the Eve,” in The Solidarity Sourcebook, 1982, Persky and Flam eds., p. 237

58. Ibid., pp. 230, 232

59. Washington Post, 20 December 1981

60. New York Times, 13 December 1981

61. Washington Post, 20 December 1981

62. Washington Post, 20 December 1981

63. Kowalewski, p. 238

64. Ibid., pp. 238-9

65. Ibid., p. 240

66. Workers Power, p. 6

67. Kowalewski, p. 239

68. Garton Ash, p. 237

69. Garton Ash, p. 237

70. LTW 1939-40, 1973, p. 50

71. Nagy, Balazs; “Budapest 1956: The Central Workers Council,” Eyewitness in Hungary, 1981, Bill Lomax ed., pp. 177-8

72. Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, 1970, p. 21

73. LTW 1937-38, 1976, p. 69