4 thoughts on “Ex-Leftist supporters of war and capitalism

  1. 1
    25 Years of Solidarity –
    From Workers Revolution to Capitalism
    Przemyslaw Wielgosz
    Editor in chief of the Polish edition Le Monde diplomatique.
    The circumstances and events surrounding the official commemoration celebrations
    of the Solidarity uprising 25 years ago speak for themselves. The drama and farce of
    the situation facing Poland today are reflected within them; a grotesque irony in
    which the ruling elites have appointed themselves as the successors of the August
    revolt of 1980.
    The Establishment’s propaganda campaign endeavours to associate the Solidarity
    uprising with the anti-communist motifs of the teachings of Pope John Paul II, with
    the West’s victory in the Cold War, and even with Wiktor Juszczenkos pseudorevolution
    in Ukraine. A measure of the scale of manipulation effected through this
    occasion can be seen in the pronounced oversight committed by the officials of the
    Institute of National Memory (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – IPN). The IPN added a
    disk with the contents of all the issues and supplements of the ‘Solidarity Weekly’
    from 1981to the special anniversary bulletin. Only the supplement to issue 29
    containing the Solidarity program agreed at the first Congress of Delegates was
    omitted. This was the most important document of the Union!
    The attitude of the Gdansk ship yard workers provides a good insight into the
    character of the trials and conflicts experienced by workers 25 years ago this August,
    leading to a great victory for Polish workers. The privatisation and parcelling off of
    entire industries into hundreds of companies has already led to the dismissal of
    thousands of shipyard workers. Today a board listing workers demands hangs from
    the gate of the shipyard, just as it did 25 years ago. This protest however, did not have
    support of Solidarity’s National leadership.
    When on August 26th officials and opposition leaders of the past, led by Lech Walesa,
    arrived in Gdansk to listen to Jean Michel Jarre in Concert, trade unionists from the
    neighbouring shipyards demonstrated against the anti-worker policies of the past and
    present Polish governments. Significantly, a sizable portion of Solidarity’s former
    leaders organised an alternative commemoration of the 25-year anniversary.
    Andrzej Gwiazda, Anna Walentynowicz and other leaders of the 1980 uprising spoke
    out in 1989 and continue to speak of the betrayal and anti-worker plots lead by
    security service agents which they say turned Solidarity into a locomotive for
    capitalism. Their slogan is a bitter adaptation of the official commemoration logo. To
    the statement ‘It Began in Gdansk’ the heroes of the first Solidarity added ‘And
    Ended in Magdalen’ (a reference to the town near Warsaw where the governing elite
    and opposition sealed the restoration of capitalism in Poland). Karol Modzelewski,
    co-author with Jacek Kuron of the famous ‘Open Letter to the Party’ (1965) is also
    critical of the official commemoration, but from a completely different perspective.
    Modzelewski spent eight and half years of his life in Communist regime jails. Last
    month Lech Walesa announced at the commemoration seminar packed with former
    opposition leaders, that he had known as far back as 1980 that ‘We will have to build
    capitalism’ Modzelewski retorted ‘He alone must have been thinking about
    capitalism. I certainly wasn’t. I wouldn’t have spent a week nor a month, let alone 8.5
    years in jail for capitalism!’
    25-years after the coastal strikes, Poland is everything except the successor of workers
    protests. The ultraliberal policies implemented by all the democratic governments
    post 1989 have lead to thousand-fold rises in Poles living below the ‘social minimum’
    (defined as a living standard of £130 (192,4 EUR) per person and £297 (440,4 EUR)
    for a three person family per month) affecting 15% of the population in 1989 to 47%
    in 1996, and 59% in 2003. Today unemployment stands at 18% (in 2007 14 %).
    Almost 4 million people in a country totalling 38 million live below the ‘minimum of
    existence’. On the other hand, the richest 5% of the population consumes over 50% of
    society’s general consumption. In the international political arena, Poland is regarded
    as an uncritical advocate of the imperialistic aspirations of the USA in Iraq, and as
    Washington’s Trojan horse in the EU.
    How did a workers revolt give way to Poland participating in the international-law
    breaking invasion of Iraq? How did it happen, that a country which one had workers
    self-government is ruled today by Prime Minister Marek Belka, who in his stint as
    director of economic reconstruction in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority
    violated both The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions? How did it come to
    this? That a powerful and democratic movement of self-determination bore poisoned
    fruit in the form of an alienated political stage where it is becoming harder and harder
    to distinguish the Left from the Right; a depoliticised population lending its’ ears all
    too often to Politicians promising iron fisted solutions to clean up a variety of
    ‘enemies’ – communists, swindlers, criminals, homosexuals and more.
    The answers to these questions hold the key to understanding the predicament of
    Polish society circa 2005, and in particular, the conditions and perspectives of the
    Polish left.
    However, in order to communicate this answer, we need to demolish a few of the
    main myths surrounding Solidarity which are voiced continually not only by Right
    wing historians but equally by the mainstream media and heirs of the old regime.
    Workers Revolution
    In the summer of 1980, a workers revolution began in Poland. Solidarity was an
    expression of workers struggle for political and economic emancipation. Despite its’
    lack of revolutionary phraseology, symbolism and organisation at the level of
    concrete activity, it can be described as a revolutionary process. It had a workeroriented
    character not only due to the arithmetical preponderance – i.e. the sheer
    numbers – of workers active in the structures of Solidarity, but above all, because of
    the content of Solidarity’s political project. Solidarity’s goals were not economic
    recoveries or reform which can always be written back into the system, any more than
    it was a return to capitalism. Even the question of political freedoms typical of
    bourgeois democracy stood in the background.
    Despite the strident questioning of the articles in the constitution referring to the
    entrenched leadership of the communist party, there was no demand for a multi-party
    system. Democracy was comprehended more according to the traditions of the
    revolutionary Left such as workers self-management and autonomy and collective
    social control over central planning. Therefore, Solidarity was not a pro-capitalist
    force. It declared itself as behind socialism not only due to the fact that all its’
    documents acknowledge the inviolability of the socialisation of the economy and
    other socialist accomplishments of the PRL (The Peoples Republic of Poland) but
    above all, because it politicised the sphere which the ruling classes in a capitalist
    world strive at all cost to de-politicise. Polish workers wanted democratic selfdetermination
    in the workplace, precisely the domain where the Bourgeoisie wants to
    see the determination of pure economics.
    Point six of the famous Gdansk Agreements states that ‘Reform of the domestic
    economy should rest upon the principle of greater independence for the enterprises
    and a genuine inclusion of workers self-management within their administration’.
    Another demand accepted into the program of the Autonomous Republic during the
    first Solidarity Congress in August 1981 was that the domestic economy should rely
    on the public sector “which is managed by a collective represented by a workers
    council, operated by a director, who is appointed by way of competition through the
    council and responsible to it in the interests of society and his/her own collective’.
    In spite of Solidarity’s national leadership, which aspired to compromise with the
    government, Congress delegates decreed that the union ‘in the struggle for workers
    self-management and a socialised enterprise will continue to proceed in accordance
    with the will of the collectives’. The uncompromising stance of the Congress revealed
    in its’ sharpness, the dominant logic of the mass movement from 1980-81. Radical
    autonomous activist Zbigniew M. Kowalewski said of those years, ‘In Solidarity, it
    was difficult to overcome with the will of the collectives in the large industrial
    workplaces. Whoever had that will behind them could boldly count on it and know
    that with it they could win, even against Walesa’.
    Martial Law and the Return to Capitalism
    Martial law or ‘The State of War’ interrupted the carnival that had been evolving
    since August 1980.The workers movement became completely pacified or pushed
    underground. It was this movement, and not the leadership of Solidarity – which was
    being interned in relatively good conditions – which was the real victim in the Martial
    Law period. In these new conditions, Solidarity had to lose its’ mass-movement
    character. Nevertheless, most of the trade union structures survived in secret, but the
    logic of the mass movement which had kept them animated, was shattered.
    Opposition leaders and activists became effectively cut off from their social base.
    Under these new conditions, their support came not from the factories and industrial
    plants, but the church.
    In 1984, despite 80% of Polish workers declaring their support for self governance
    and autonomous control of their workplaces, this mood was not reflected in the
    politics of the opposition. Less than a year later, the Provisional National Commission
    along with Zbygniew Bujak and Bogdan Borusewicz carried out a serious internal
    attack on Solidarity’s program, introducing to its program a range of pro-capitalist
    elements into it.
    The evolution of the Right was bolstered by a free-flow of foreign aid and support
    from Western regimes, culminating at its highest point with the USA SEED Act
    (Support for Eastern European Democracy) passed by US Congress in 1989. The Act
    saw over $200m injected into the centres of the opposition to promote a neo-liberal
    economic agenda in the region. In Poland this capital was used to create a network of
    conservative think tanks, the most serious of which is the Polish American Freedom
    Foundation (PAFF). These think-tanks became the incubators of the cadre for the new
    governing elites.
    What is interesting is that these pro-capitalist tendencies in Solidarity appeared within
    the communist party around the same time. When Michael Gorbachov’s government
    launched Perestroika, the regime in Warsaw began to drift towards the introduction of
    market mechanisms. These were openly activated on a mass scale under the
    governments of Zbigniew Messner and Mieczyslaw F. Rakowski (last prime minister
    of PRL) Technocrats and regional party barons waited impatiently for the green light
    to privatise, knowing that this would enable them to claw back the running of
    factories themselves.
    The Absolute Sorrow of Restoration
    If 1980-81 was a revolutionary period in Poland, in 1989 we saw its’ total opposite. In
    Poland, the restorative character of the events of 1989 was felt more acutely than in
    Berlin or Prague because the changes in the system were not achieved through or
    accompanied by any mass social movement. When Prime Minister Tadeusz
    Mazowiecki became ill during his inaugural appearance in Parliament, it was an
    ironic symbol of the ‘energy’ of the old opposition. The grassroots revolutionary
    energies of Solidarity were finally suppressed by the opposition elites, with Lech
    Walesa at the helm, one year earlier. 1988 saw the last workers mass mobilisation in
    Poland capable of breaking through the universal apathy of 1986-1987. The country
    was swept by a wave of combative factory occupations and strikes organised by
    young workers. Officially, Solidarity’s leadership was seen to be supporting the
    strikes, however on the ground, it was struggling to extinguish the whole movement
    because it threatened the mediation role of the church in the ongoing negotiations
    with the government.
    If 1980 was a year of utopia then 1989 represented the end of all the utopias, illusions
    and dreams of the beginnings of the movement. The lack of enthusiasm experienced
    by most of the population translated into a rock-bottom turn-out at the first free
    elections (62% – 10 out of 27 million eligible voters did not take part). The mass
    meetings and demonstrations that had characterised 1980 were absent. The popular
    conviction that the future of the country was being decided behind the backs of its
    citizens dominated. A fatalistic anticipation of what the future might bring flooded
    the factories and industrial plants. The measure discouragement of this was the
    widespread belief (held by nearly half of all workers), that they had no influence over
    the direction of the changes then being implemented in Poland. Despite the vast
    majority of workers having a negative attitude towards privatisation, actual resistance
    to it was weak.
    Restoration brought with it disintegration in political activities and the privatisation of
    aspiration. People who 10 years earlier has believed in social change now just wanted
    a career, quick returns, and personal happiness. Political nihilism, summarised in the
    slogan ‘Whatever we do, they’ll do what they want anyway’, soon replaced the past
    faith in democracy and its institutions. Above all, the previous motor of Solidarity –
    the working class – found itself on the sidelines, frustrated and deprived of any
    political representation. Without any organisation or any left-wing leadership, many
    of the movement’s segments began to drift towards Catholic fundamentalism,
    twinning a rejection of capitalism with authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, and
    conspiracy theory-based interpretations of history. The legacy of this drift today are 2
    million members of the Radio Maria family – transmitting the fundamentalist
    broadcasts of Tadeusz Rydzyk, the swelling ranks of The League of Polish
    Families’(Liga Polskich Rodzin – LPR), as well as the anti-Semitic cries within the
    crowds of desperate dockers protesting the anniversary of the August strikes.
    In the 25-years that have lapsed since the Gdansk strikes of 1980, Polish society has
    walked a twisted and intricate path between the trial-run of realising the dreams of
    democratic self-determination to a state of political nihilism cohering with an erosion
    of the very concept of democracy. In one respect, this path resembles a circle. Just as
    a quarter of a century ago, in today’s Poland the only group which takes the promises
    of democracy seriously is the group which has the least from it. It’s possible to see
    from the successive social protests that it is workers who are stubbornly holding on to
    the ideas of a democratic society, as a community which can realise the principles of
    social justice as a reality and not just in the form of equality but also in terms of social
    control over strategic decision-making in the economic sphere. This position contrasts
    vividly with the ideas and agenda of the political class which seems intent on limiting
    an already anaemic democracy exemplified by the singular election mandates
    launched by the liberal-conservative Citizens Platform party and the introduction of
    tuition fees for higher education, to the awarding of lock-out rights for bosses planned
    by Belka’s government.
    The restoration of capitalism in Poland has created a social wasteland. The current
    ‘alterglobalisation’ phenomenon is more of a social scene (activist scene). than a
    social movement. Workers protests are truly dramatic and often end in riots (last July
    saw rioting in the streets of Warsaw during a Miners demonstration), but they lack coordination
    and a political tendency. Even when a wave of strikes and protests rises, as
    happened in 2002-2003, forcing changes in the budget policies of the ‘leftwing’
    government of the SLD (The Democratic Left Alliance), they do not leave behind any
    lasting structures or representation.
    In Poland today, Solidarity means almost nothing. In the eyes of ordinary citizens it is
    seen as compromised, corrupt and treacherous. It has become less and less of a point
    of reference for workers struggling to defend their liquidated workplaces. For them,
    more important It is the solidarity with a small ‘s’ that means more to them.


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