First Published: In Struggle! No. 248, April 28, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Almost a year ago, ordinary strikes against the increase in the price of meat turned out to be the catalyst for the upheavals in Poland, which today are said to threaten world peace.
In August 1980, at the instigation of the Gdansk shipyard workers, the demand for independent unions became the main rallying cry of the strike movement which continued to grow. The government had no choice but to give in, and in late August it signed the Gdansk agreements which recognized the workers’ main demands. It was an historical moment.
Since that time, the confrontations have gotten bigger and bigger. There has been one provocation after another by the hardliners within the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP-the Polish “communist” party), supported by the U.S.S.R. On the other side, workers stepped up their struggles around a growing number of issues: wages, length of the work day, lack of food, the quality of public services, the corruption and privileges of the leaders, fights to have local party and State representatives removed, to free political prisoners, to demand that the law be respected by the security police, that a peasant’s union be recognized, etc.
Opposition is even to be found in the ranks of the PUWP itself where 1 million worker members are also members of the independent Solidarity union which came out of the Gdansk agreements. The rank and file of the party has been calling for a special congress for several months, for the democratization of the constitution and the recall of those party leaders that have been supporting repressive stands. Horizontal coordination between local cells, in opposition to the vertical hierarchy of the party, has been achieved in many cities. On April 15, they held their first national conference in Torun, bringing together several thousand participants.
These events are eloquent proof of the oppressive and undemocratic nature of this so-called socialist society, and of the silent pent-up feeling of the revolt among the working masses. In the past, there have been various revolts in the Eastern European countries including East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1956, 1970 and 1976.
But for the first time, we are witnessing a revolt involving millions of people on a country-wide scale, a revolt which is the expression of the conscious desire of the entire working class to act autonomously from the party of managers whose only response is to demand that its “leading role” be written into the constitution of the independent union. These are undoubtedly extremely important events which raise decisive political and ideological questions for the Polish working class, and indeed, the working class the world round.
In that context, the allegations by the U.S.S.R. and its mouthpieces around the world that the whole thing is the result of subversive acts on the part of a minority of anti-socialists on the payroll of Western imperialism are quite pitiful, to say the least.
There are also some extremely influential international political trends which have tried to convince workers that the revolts in Poland are basically a condemnation of socialism. The Western imperialists brandish these events as proof of the bankruptcy of Marxism and communism which is basically dictatorial and totalitarian much worse, according to General Haig, than the “authoritarian” (that should read fascist) regimes backed by the U.S. It is with the same point of view in mind that pro-imperialist unions like the AFL-CIO have given support to Solidarity, that the Pope’ offers his advice for moderation, while the Americans have jumped on the occasion to justify their increased war preparations. The European imperialists are immediate next-door neighbours with definite interests at stake in the area. They claim to be less het up on making threats of intervention.
Various social-democratic trends such as the NDP and certain union leaders in the CNTU and elsewhere (trends which are particularly developed in Europe where there are many Eurocommunists) also have their own interpretation of what is going on. Generally, they see this as the final failure of the political concepts elaborated by Lenin in the context of the Russian revolution (the vanguard party, violent revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc.). It’s “democratic socialism’s” revenge – for it was the social-democratic perspective, one which completely excludes any possibility of the revolutionary transformation of society, that Lenin criticized.
This trend has been working very hard to influence Solidarity’s actions. It has very direct links with the union as exemplified by the monthly visits by the groups of West German unionists.
During their struggle, the Polish workers have had to confront head on some of the consequences of one conception of socialism which was developed in the specific conditions of the U.S.S.R. and which, after the war, was systematically applied in the People’s Democracies. These include certain ideas about the exercise of democracy in the relations between the State, the party and the masses, and the independence of unions with regard to the party. These questions are being widely debated and we will, take them up again in the coming period. We would however like to point out that too often people are very quick to condemn or defend these “principles”, which are supposed to be Leninist concepts but which are too often caricatures of these concepts.
Quite obviously these questions feed the arguments of the social democrats who want to use them for their own ends. But, on the other hand, all during their fight, the Polish workers have put the struggle for power on their agenda and everything in the social, political, and economic situation in Poland points to a violent confrontation in the long run. This has serious implications on the international level. Faced with this, the social democrats have no other perspective to offer than the vicious circle of negotiation and conciliation although this has been continually swept aside by the movement of class struggle.
So we must not jump to conclusions too quickly in labelling Solidarity, which is still the vehicle for the expression of spontaneous fighting spirit of the masses who continue to believe in the ideal of workers’ control over all aspects of the society. It is true that at the present time the struggle is limited to obtaining certain democratic rights, but there is a great lack of democracy and the struggle to obtain it is pushing Poland’s contradictions to the breaking point. There should thus be no hesitation about supporting it. With regard to the tactical line of moderation put forward by the Solidarity leadership, which has been hotly debated but generally followed to date, there is some basis for it for the moment given that the movement’s forces are far from consolidated.
However, what is somewhat more worrisome is that given the volatile political situation, nobody among the leaders of Solidarity nor among the members of the KOR or other political movements, has developed a strategic perspective for continuing the fight, and much less a revolutionary understanding of the confrontation with the regime and its Soviet taskmaster or the type of society which should be built. Instead of a strategy, they hold to an impossible dream of a struggle which, while imbued with a deep-rooted nationalism, will somehow continue to win reform after reform. This approach runs the risk of leaving the working class politically disarmed.
Given the circumstances, international support for the struggle of the Polish workers can be decisive. However, despite spontaneous sympathy on the part of many workers around the world, the international proletariat is in fact seriously divided on this question: it sadly lacks an independent position based on its common interests. Workers are being canvassed by the various trends mentioned above. As well, the difficulties that revolutionaries around the world have in ever coming to a common understanding of the course of events in the world has never been so flagrant. Some accept the Russian theses, others refuse to support the Polish workers because there is no Marxist-Leninist party to lead them, while others only see the Soviet danger and not the internal stakes and thus end up with almost the same positions as those developed in Western military propaganda.
Under these circumstances, it is extremely important that there be much more extensive and better organized support activities within the Canadian working class, which more clearly demarcate from Western imperialist aims, especially Canadian imperialism. It is also of utmost importance that the theoretical and political questions which are an obstacle to the development of support should be taken up and debated. It is thus encouraging to see that these events have aroused considerable interest in analyzing and understanding the struggle to build socialism and the current nature of countries which waged this struggle in the past. Several Marxist-Leninist organizations and parties are drawing on the concrete experience of the Polish workers to deepen their struggle against modern revisionism. There are several revolutionary organizations and political groups (for example the Guardian newspaper, in the U.S.) which, although they consider the U.S.S.R. and Poland to be socialist, have had no hesitation in supporting the Polish workers and are seriously considering the “problems” of socialism. It is these developments that make an confident that the struggle of the Polish workers – as a result of the struggle itself and the work done to support it as well as the research, debate and political understanding that it continues to stimulate – will one day be understood for what it really is: a battle that could very well breathe new life into the struggle for socialism in Poland and elsewhere.