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Workers Socialist Review

Magazine of the Workers Socialist League
Affiliated to the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee

Written: 1981 / 82.
First Published: September 1982.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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Workers Socialist Review
No. 2, September 1982

Martial Law in Poland
Resolution of the TILC, December 1981

The declaration of martial law by the leader of the Polish CP and Prime Minister General Woycieck Jaruzelski is aimed at smashing the independent trade union ‘Solidarnosc’, and stemming the revolutionary struggle of the Polish working class.

The determination of the regime to accomplish their objective is shown by the shooting down of miners and other protestors and the mass internment of all Solidarnosc activists, including the imprisonment of Lech Walesa.

The institution of the Military Council of National Salvation is not a military coup. It is the use by the leading elements of the Polish Stalinist bureaucracy of the state power at their disposal, Indeed the ‘Council’ includes several ministers and deputy ministers. The dictatorial power which preserves the position of Stalinist bureaucracies throughout Eastern Europe has in Poland come out into the open.

The ‘Martial Law’ decision shows the impossibility of the bureaucracy ever coexisting with genuinely independent trade unions as the organisations of the working class. The bureaucrats only allowed these unions to exist for a brief period in Poland because their own power had been weakened by the mass movement of the Polish working class.

Yet from the outset they had employed a twin tactic. On the one hand they sought to suck in the leadership of Solidarnosc and integrate it into the bureaucracy; on the other they used the time created by their temporary concessions to regroup and better prepare their counter-attack if their bid at integration failed.

There will now be no compromises made by the bureaucracy. They are desperate and ruthless in their drive to stamp out the rival power of Solidarnosc. Any independent voice of the working class must stand as a threat to the bureaucratic power and privilege of a bureaucracy which feeds off the country’s nationalised property relations.

Who calls the tune?

The Thursday before the Martial Law saw a visit to Poland by the Russian head of the Warsaw Pact. No doubt he informed Jaruzelski that if he and the Polish bureaucracy did not act then the Warsaw Pact would. Indeed it is the leading caste of the armies of Eastern Europe which are the forces closest to the Kremlin bureaucracy. Not only were the Eastern European states created under the protection and watchful eye of Stalin’s Red Army, but so were the post-war officer corps. There are constant joint manoeuvres, and most of the present leading officers, including Jaruzelski, are Russian-trained. The coup itself was planned months ago, but it is clear that not only did the USSR prompt the move, but that if Jaruzelski had not done the job, Soviet troops would have moved in, despite the enormous problems that would have caused the Kremlin bureaucrats.

But if the threat was most directly aimed at the Stalinist bureaucracies of Eastern Europe and the USSR, another prime motive force behind the Martial law has been the Western banks.

They are owed no less than $27 billion by the Polish bureaucrats. A delegation representing the country’s main creditors was in Warsaw only ten days before Martial Law was declared. They told the government that unless they paid $500 million in interest by the end of 1981, then they would be declared to be bankrupt.

No wonder therefore that the Wall St. Journal said that Martial Law could be a good thing. One West German banker told the Financial Times, ‘I now see a chance for Poland to return to a more normal working schedule, and this could be a good thing for the banks.’

For the world’s imperialist leader now to denounce the crackdown is a classic example of hypocrisy. The measures taken in Poland are precisely the kind of measures the imperialists themselves sponsored in Chile and seek to impose via the IMF on their puppet regimes around the world Only a few months ago Reagan himself was jailing strikers in the USA. Thatcher is preparing draconian anti-union laws in Britain.

But of course the Stalinists have handed a propaganda weapon to imperialism, and thus fuelled the very anti-communism they claim to be combating. Hence it is inevitable that the international (and national) opposition to the Martial Law will bring together a confused and heterogeneous mixture of reactionary nationalist and pro-imperialist forces as well as working class militants voicing a healthy opposition to Stalinist oppression.

Marxists must determine their policies independently of the pressure of imperialism and bourgeois public opinion: and we must not restrict our defence of Solidarnosc simply because empty statements of ‘support’ are being made by Reagan, the Pope and the Thatcher government. But we must combine our solidarity campaign with class demands that clearly distinguish our position and offer Polish workers an independent way forward.

The call for self-determination, as part of a programme for political revolution for all the Stalinist bloc, will arm revolutionaries in Poland to undercut reactionary nationalist forces and to rally the working class for an internationalist perspective.

The Church

The first person in the West to know about the military moves in Poland was the Pope. The Polish ambassador to Italy phoned him to tell him of the moves and to tell him that the Church had to play a role of reconciliation. This was at 1am on Sunday morning. A few hours later at Sunday service Archbishop Glemp, in a statement broadcast on official radio, obediently called for acceptance of Martial Law. ‘Pole should not fight Pole’, he declared as Polish troops arrested and beat up Polish workers.

A week later, even after Church people had begun to be arrested along with militants, and after miners had been shot down by troops, Glemp made a similar broadcast. One of his emissaries struggled to persuade Walesa to go on television to appeal for calm. The Church, as on previous occasions, has emerged as the ally of the bureaucracy against the Polish working class.


The leadership of Solidarnosc from the outset wanted only to reform the system and did not recognise the necessity for a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy. The Polish Martial Law – implemented by a vicious and desperate native ruling caste and not, as in Hungary 1956 or Czechoslovakia 1968, by a Soviet invasion – underlines the fact that reformism is just as pernicious in a deformed workers’ state as it is in a capitalist state. Despite its nationalised property relations, a deformed workers’ state is not half-way towards being a healthy workers’ state. It remains a counterrevolutionary apparatus, committed to preserving the atomisation of the working class and the preservation of the power of the bureaucracy through dictatorial means at home and maintaining a ‘balance’ with imperialism and the working class internationally.

The weakening of the power of the ruling bureaucracy, by a programme of radical reforms, can only be the prelude to the decisive confrontation. In that conflict the proletariat must either be prepared to challenge for power, smash the existing state machine and replace it with its own organs of class rule – which alone can properly defend the nationalised property relations and develop a planned economy – or face defeat at the hands of the existing armed forces and repressive apparatus. In this sense Poland is the Chile of Eastern Europe.

But the leadership of Solidarnosc limited the struggles of the working class at the very time when the bureaucracy was as its weakest despite the fact that the rise of the mass movement had seen the emergence of a soviet-type body in the Gdansk MKS.

In the run-up to the Martial Law Solidarnosc gave no lead to struggles that could weaken the military forces. Walesa and others repeatedly talked about military moves but never acted seriously upon their own warnings. Even at the Praesidium meeting of Solidarnosc on the night of the Martial Law there was talk of troop movements – but no notice was taken.

In contrast the bureaucracy had prepared their ground well. In mid-September 10,000 troops had been used to work in the mines. At the end of September Jaruzelski was applauded in the Sejm when he said that the military would be used to end ‘anarchy’.

At the end of October, troops were used to ‘assist’ in 2,000 towns and villages. At the beginning of November the Sejm called for an end to strikes and threatened to ban them. Most importantly, on December 3 the military was used in a raid on the occupation by cadet firemen who were fighting for the demilitarisation of the fire service and to separate it from the security system.

This raid tested the willingness of the troops and riot police to act against the workers; and it also tested out the Solidarnosc leadership.

Instead of calling for an immediate general strike against this attack, Walesa called for ‘restraint’. The union was put on alert – but called no action. In the end they promised a demonstration in Warsaw two weeks after the raid.

In this way the initiative was handed to the bureaucracy.

But there was growing opposition to this line within Solidarnosc. At the September Congress there was a substantial vote for candidates standing against Walesa. But the leadership managed to contain the rise in militancy – and when they responded, it was too little too late.

At the end of October there was a one-hour general strike against the police crackdown. But immediately afterwards Walesa met with Glemp and Jaruzelski to set up a body for ‘national conciliation’ When the state attacks continued Walesa broke this off, and declared that confrontation was inevitable: but he did nothing to prepare for it – and the bureaucracy were able to use his own words against him while not feeling the effect of any action.

Indeed when Solidarnosc threatened a General Strike in protest against a law due to be debated in the Sejm banning strikes, Walesa turned this into a 24-hour General Strike.

Even so there was some doubt as to whether the Sejm would pass the law. And it was obvious that if they did, Solidarnosc would take action. This is why the week the Sejm was due to meet was the week Jaruzelski imposed Martial Law.

The Stalinist Parties

The crackdown in Poland has brought forth varied reactions from the other Stalinist parties. While of course Jaruzelski’s sponsors in the Kremlin and his colleagues in Eastern Europe have warmly welcomed what they regard as a belated move to reassert the totalitarian rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the Communist Parties of Western Europe have been less enthusiastic.

The French CP, in what could lead to a significant rift with the Mitterrand government, has supported the Martial Law and echoed the Stalinist claims that it was the ‘excesses’ of Solidarnosc which forced the clampdown. This stance by a Marchais leadership already weakened by its electoral setbacks seems likely to prompt a further development of crisis in the French CP.

In Italy the Berlinguer leadership has condemned the coup, but in the context of bowing to bourgeois public opinion and trying to strengthen its links with the bourgeoisie and the parties of the government. For the same reasons, in Spain, too, Carrillo’s party has come out vociferously in opposition to the Martial Law.

In Britain the CP has found itself divided. A substantial minority of the Party voted only weeks ago against their leadership’s condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This same hard-line Stalinist minority has pressed for the Morning Star to support the Polish Martial Law. But the ‘Eurocommunist’ majority – including for instance Party Chairman Mick McGahey – has opposed Jaruzelski’s moves. The Polish events can only compound the world crisis of Stalinism – and create new avenues for Trotskyists, who alone can consistently oppose those reactionaries who use Stalinist repression in order to vilify the name of communism.


Throughout the 18-month period of its existence Solidarnosc has lacked a leadership which grasped the importance of transitional demands which could mobilise workers for political revolution. As reformists, the Solidarnosc leaders saw their job simply as a pressure group.

Yet many opportunities were present. In periods of police attacks, independent patrols were mounted by Solidarnosc – which could have become the basis for the formation of workers’ defence squads.

Throughout the unfolding economic crisis the bureaucracy has retained a monopoly and control over information on the economy: the demand to end the secrets of the bureaucrats and open up their secret discussions with the USSR, the other bureaucracies, and the imperialists, could have won wide support and greatly weakened the bureaucrats.

The promising struggles for ‘workers’ self-management’ and the strikes to force the removal of certain managers and even local governors could have been built into a genuine struggle for workers’ control: but they were watered down and rendered meaningless by the leadership.

Indeed even on democratic demands such as the right to strike the leadership made continuous concessions to the ruling bureaucracy.

But in the course of the revolutionary crisis the development has more and more clearly been seen of a current among the activists and even among the leaders of Solidarnosc which is confused and heterogeneous but clearly evolving towards the perspective of the destruction of the bureaucratic power and its replacement by the power of workers’ councils. Nothing less than this was shown by the debate on the ‘workers’ chamber’ that developed at the congress of Solidarnosc and the setting up inside Solidarnosc of groupings of a revolutionary socialist tendency like the ‘Working Group for the inter-regional cooperation initiative of workers’ councils’ (known as the ‘Lublin group’). These forces represent in the last analysis the tangible expression of the profound significance of 18 months of the revolutionary upsurge of the Polish working class.

Yet the fact is that in fighting for an independent trade union as the organised expression of the demands and aspirations of the working class and a challenge to the totalitarian control of the bureaucratic state, the leaders of Solidarnosc helped the Polish workers take a major step forward in their struggle against Stalinist dictatorship. The courage and tenacity of the resistance to the Martial Law is an expression of how deep Solidarnosc has sunk its roots into the flower of the Polish proletariat and living proof of the potential for political revolution in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe: a potential whose realisation requires the building of Trotskyist parties as sections of a reconstructed Fourth International.

* Down with the Martial Law!
* Defend the workers of Poland!
* Support the call for a General Strike. For trade union blacking of Polish goods for the duration of such a strike.
* Release all political prisoners!
* For trade unions independent of the bureaucratic regimes throughout Eastern Europe – spread the Solidarnosc movement! Break links with the police state ‘unions’.
* Polish soldiers: support Solidarnosc, don’t shoot the workers! Arm the Polish working class!
* Down with the bureaucracy: for workers’ power in Poland based on genuine workers’ councils!
* Stop any Soviet or Warsaw Pact invasion: for the right of self-determination to the Polish people!
* For an independent socialist Poland!

Workers Socialist Review Index (1981-84)

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