Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Polish workers to generals: “You haven’t won yet!”

First Published: Unity, Vol. 5, No. 1, January 29-February 11, 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“Remember they have only tanks, rifles and batons,” said an underground leaflet written in January by Solidarity leaders in Warsaw. “We have Solidarity, which is more powerful than alt the dictatorships. You haven’t won the war yet, Mr. General.” Sixty workers continue a sit-in strike at a Gdynia shipyard, although most resistance to the martial law declared December 13 takes less open forms. Underground leaflets, industrial sabotage and extremely low production in factories all indicate workers are resisting.

Today, neither the Polish United Workers Party (communist party) nor official government bodies run Poland. Real power lies in a group of military officers, internal security and party bureaucrats known as the Military Council of National Salvation. The seizure of power by a military junta is common in Latin America, but has never occurred before in post World War II Eastern Europe.

The martial law repression was swift and vicious. The junta admits to arresting 5,000 workers and intellectuals, although some estimates are ten times that. The junta closed newspapers, schools and universities – any institutions that might offer resistance. Strikes and demonstrations were banned. Even by late January, Poles could not travel between cities, there was no long distance phone service and the junta maintained a strict 8 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

Trade unions, Poles living abroad, progressives and revolutionaries around the world swiftly showed their opposition to the Polish crackdown. Workers led large and angry demonstrations in the capitals of Western Europe, Canada and Japan. Every major political party and union federation participated in a December 14 mass rally in Paris – except the pro-Moscow French Communist Party.

In the U.S., tens of thousands of people demonstrated their solidarity with the Polish people on December 17 in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, San Francisco and other cities. The 10,000 largely Polish-American marchers in Chicago waved red and white Solidarity flags and burned a Soviet flag. Coal miners in Pennsylvania held a vigil for their striking brothers in the Silesian mines.

Is Poland socialist?

The declaration of martial law climaxed one and half years of struggle between the Polish people and the Polish authorities in league with the U.S.S.R. Why did so many millions of workers, farmers and intellectuals feel the need to organize against this self-styled “socialist” government?

At the heart of their struggle is a basic fact: Poland is not socialist. Genuine socialism means workers and their allies control a country’s economy and government. Since the late 1950’s, Poland ceased to be controlled by the workers. Externally, it was increasingly dominated by the imperialist U.S.S.R.

By 1980, it was clear that Poland did not have a socialist government. The economy was in a mess. Workers faced shortages of food, coal and other basic necessities. The whole economy was geared to the needs of the U.S.S.R. Coal, steel, food products and ships were all exported to the U.S.S.R. – leaving serious shortages inside Poland. To make up these shortages, the country went into $27 billion in debt to western banks and governments.

Politically, an elite within the revisionist Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) ran a tight dictatorship. There were no civil liberties, workers had no control over their factories and had no right to strike. Trade unions did not protect the rights of workers, but enforced the rule of that elite.

It was in this context that the Solidarity movement was born and began to grow.


The birth of Solidarity had its origins in July 1980 when the government announced sharp new price hikes on basic consumer goods. Workers went out on a general strike demanding no price increases, improvements in their wages and working conditions, and democratic political rights. By August, the PUWP leadership was forced to concede on economic issues, allow workers to organize independent unions and grant the right to strike.

Thirty-six independent unions first came together to form Solidarity in September 1980. Solidarity quickly grew to 10 million members, over 80% of the entire Polish working class. Independent student and professional unions sprang up, as did the Solidarity Farmers Union.

Solidarity strike bulletins and newspapers indicate that the workers’ demands focused on much-needed improvements in their economic and political rights.

Solidarity was a mass trade union movement whose leaders held various views. Some wanted Poland to eventually adopt a European-style system of social democracy; others wanted a political and economic system similar to Yugoslavia; still others wanted to reform the current Polish system. Many in Solidarity held deeply religious views and were greatly influenced by the Catholic Church. Marxist-Leninists from the anti-revisionist Polish Communist Party were also active in Solidarity.

Despite the impression given in the Western press, many in Solidarity supported genuine socialism.

“We don’t want to return to capitalism,” a Solidarity delegation told French trade unionists in 1981. “What we want is to achieve good management in the plants by self-management .... The principles of socialism are very valuable. But they must be made real in life.”

Solidarity as a mass movement stands for democracy and economic reforms. Its program and demands are consistent with genuine socialism. Objectively, it stands for independence from Soviet control.

As Lech Walesa commented to the French trade unionists, “We want to be able to choose our friends and we want our friends not to threaten us.”

Struggle with PUWP and the U.S.S.R.

But the Soviet Union did constantly threaten Poland. They feared an independent Poland would weaken them in a military confrontation with the west. More workers’ control in Poland might also set an example for other workers in Eastern Europe and in the U.S.S.R. itself. Solidarity and the Polish people’s movement had to be crushed at all costs.

The Polish party leadership was caught between the saber-rattling U.S.S.R. and the massive Solidarity movement. There was sharp struggle within PUWP, with some leaders willing to accept the Solidarity reforms, at least temporarily. In the face of large-scale strikes, two governments fell. But a hard-line faction – backed strongly by the U.S.S.R. – always attacked Solidarity. General Jaruzelski came to power promising reforms and saying that “Polish soldiers would never fire on Polish workers.” Today, he heads the junta shooting down workers in the streets.

The U.S.S.R. maintained a steady external pressure on Poland throughout this period. Led by the U.S.S.R., Warsaw Pact countries in early 1981 carried out massive and lengthy military maneuvers inside Poland. In late 1981, the U.S.S.R. tightened the economic screws by withholding crucial raw materials from the Polish economy.

According to the former Polish ambassador to Japan, Polish authorities had laid plans for a state of siege as far back as May 1981. Martial law posters were printed in the U.S.S.R. out of fear that Polish printers would reveal the plans.

By December 1981, the U.S.S.R. decided to move. Solidarity was growing in power, and the regular leadership of PUWP seemed powerless to stop them. Polish officials now admit they declared martial law to prevent a direct Soviet invasion. For the U.S.S.R., a crackdown by Polish authorities was less costly politically and militarily than a direct Soviet invasion.

Response in the west

The Western reaction to martial law has done nothing to stop Soviet aggression. Various Western leaders, particularly in the U.S., have criticized violations of human rights in Poland. Yet, they have done very little in practice to help the Polish workers.

President Reagan waited a full ten days after the imposition of martial law to take certain sanctions against Poland and the U.S.S.R. He suspended government-to-government economic credits to Poland, canceled Polish fishing rights in U.S. waters, stopped airline flights from Poland and the Soviet Union, and limited high technology sales to the U.S.S.R.

Anti-war activists in the U.S., while supporting the Polish workers, noted the hypocrisy of Reagan supporting “human rights” in Poland while sending U.S. military advisers to El Salvador and breaking the PATCO strike at home. They were strongly critical of Reagan using the Polish crisis to continue draft registration. In reality, Reagan’s measures will do very little to hurt the U.S.S.R. Out of fear of losing support from large agribusiness-men, Reagan has so far refused to order a grain embargo against the U.S.S.R. For years, the U.S.S.R. has gained high technology equipment from the U.S. by industrial espionage and trading through third countries. U.S. sanctions mean little in practice, as profit-hungry U.S. firms continue to supply the U.S.S.R. with much needed equipment for major projects.

The response from Western European governments has indicated even less support for Polish workers. West German Chancellor Schmidt was the most obvious, calling martial law strictly an internal affair of Poland. Meetings of the Common Market and of NATO foreign ministers produced no concrete sanctions.

For all their anti-Soviet rhetoric, Western governments recognize Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. The U.S.S.R. is free to carry out whatever it wants, including armed invasions such as against Czechoslovakia in 1968, without significant opposition.

Soviet promotion of detente in the 1970’s further strengthened this thinking. Many U.S. and European monopoly corporations have considerable investments with the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe. Western governments and banks today hold $27 billion in loans to Poland. They have a material interest in keeping the current government solvent. If Poland goes bankrupt, it would cause serious problems in some Western economies, particularly West Germany’s. So Western banks actually welcomed martial law in hopes it would stabilize the Polish economy.

“Western banks always have had the best experiences with rigidly controlled communist regimes,” notes the Swiss weekly Weltwoche, “especially as concerns debt management and payment morale.”

Support the Polish people

A broad range of trade unionists, Polish-Americans, students, progressives and revolutionaries in the U.S. have rallied in support of the Polish people. While differing in political perspectives, there is a common opposition to martial law and to all outside interference in Polish affairs. There is a strong rejection of Soviet domination in Poland.

These groups have held demonstrations, vigils and educational forums in support of Solidarity. Some of these actions were in direct support of the Polish people as opposed to the self-serving actions of the U.S. government. A particularly effective form of solidarity has been to send food shipments and emergency medical aid to be distributed in Poland through non-governmental sources. In New York, Chicago and other cities, U.S. activists have helped Solidarity members set up organizing centers to spread the truth about events in Poland.

The struggle of the Polish people for democracy, freedom and true socialism will continue. As Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, a Solidarity leader now living underground in Poland, said, “Solidarity still exists and acts. Its authorities are working because of the will of the overwhelming democratic majority of Polish society.”