Solidarity--Lest We Forget | The Nation


Solidarity--Lest We Forget

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Those on the left who cherished the illusion that Poland would somehow vanish from the news and that Solidarity would disappear from our political consciousness have been disappointed. A wave of strikes and skirmishes with the police spread throughout Poland recently in defiance of martial law; the inevitable lull that followed Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's military clampdown thus lasted less than six months. The situation in Poland must again be watched with the faint hope of a compromise and the very real fear of a bloody explosion.

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Daniel Singer
Daniel Singer, for many years The Nation's Paris-based Europe correspondent, was born on September 26, 1926, in...

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It is a battle royal, and it foreshadows many more like it in the struggle for the economic mastery of Europe.

The Polish story is far from finished. Its impact on socialists in the West, already significant, will increase in coming months. Jaruzelski's coup has raised the curtain on the last act of the Western European schism in the once monolithic international Communist movement. It has also confronted the left in the West with two problems--or rather a pair of dangerous pitfalls. The first of these is the danger for the left of becoming exclusively preoccupied with its own important struggles and ignoring the continuing Polish drama. The second pitfall is more properly a trap: the right's use of the latest tragedy in an allegedly socialist country to discredit the struggle for socialism altogether. Let us take up these matters in order.

First, the Communist schism in the West. Moscow locuta, causa finita. There was a time, barely a quarter of a century ago, when Communist parties with genuine popular roots responded to the orders of the Kremlin with the discipline of military battalions. To break with the party, or to be excommunicated from it, were traumatic experiences for the "victims." Those days are gone, at least in the advanced capitalist countries; No one in these nations, not even the party faithful, still believes that the Soviet Union is constructing an alternative society that offers answers to any other country's social problems. Sacrilege has vanished along with the notion of paradise.

But Communists outside the Soviet bloc have not entirely lost their capacity for disillusionment, and so the events In Poland shook the rank and file for a number of reasons. The early progress of Solidarity had raised hopes of a gradual transition to a different kind of regime. It was so obviously a mass movement of the Polish working class that it was impossible to dismiss it as bourgeois or as manipulated from abroad. The military dictatorship, on the other hand, was clearly acting in complicity with the Soviet Union. Jaruzelski's coup thus contributed to the further disintegration of the international movement dominated by the Russians.

The Soviet leadership attempted to conceal the cracks in the monolith from the Russian people by a kind of numbers game. Statements from a host of small but obedient parties in Latin America and the Arab world approving Jaruzelski's actions were quoted in the Soviet press. The parties on the Asian continent, where memories of the Sino-Soviet split are still vivid, were not so cooperative; even the Japanese Communists refused to cooperate. And in Western Europe the reactions were overwhelmingly negative. The coup was condemned in unequivocal terms by a large contingent of Eurocommunists headed by the Italians but including the Spaniards, the Dutch, the British, the Belgians and, all the Scandinavians with the exception of the Danes, now a tiny sect as a result of a recent split in their ranks.

The Kremlin can count minor parties in its numbers game, but spreading the word that Communists in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg are solidly behind the Soviet Union is mainly a tactic for confusing the issue. Moscow knows very well that in Western Europe it can rely on only three parties that matter. These are the larger of the two Greek parties (known as the Exterior), which has always toed the Moscow line; the equally obedient Portuguese C.P., whose leader, Alvaro Cunhal, visited Warsaw at the beginning of April; and, last but not least, the maverick French party of Georges Marchais, which is a separate case.

The French C.P. used to be one of the most Stalinist of the lot. Khrushchev's "secret" Indictment of Stalin at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956 was referred to by French Communists as the "report attributed to comrade Khrushchev" as a way to avoid admitting the bitter truth. Subsequently, however, their popular front strategy compelled them to change their line. They could not claim to be democratic and hope to gain the support of the electorate if they seemed to approve repression In the Soviet bloc, so they distanced themselves from Moscow. But after their break with the Socialist Party in 1977 and 1978, the French Communists were no longer interested in wooing voters on the left, and they moved closer to the Soviet line. The blessing that Marchais gave to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was a spectacular illustration of this shift. The C.P. paid a heavy price for its ideological antics and lost about a quarter of its usual vote in the 1981 presidential elections. After its poor showing, the party climbed aboard the Mitterrand bandwagon on domestic issues, though it has not altered its foreign policy. Thus, although the Socialists expressed their support for Solidarity, the Communists backed Jaruzelski, and this, they themselves admit, cost them additional votes in the local elections last March. At times the bewildered Communist leadership seems to be guided solely by a political death wish.

To be sure, the anti-Moscow Communists are also In disarray. The Spanish Communists are undergoing a crisis of major proportions. Party leader Santiago Carrillo has had to contend not only with a pro-Soviet faction, the so-called "Afghans," who are strong in Barcelona, but with the Basques, who oppose his centralism, and with the Eurocommunists, who accuse him of having insufficient reformist zeal and of preaching rather than practicing democracy. Carrillo predictably condemned the Polish coup, but his stand did not carry as much weight as it would have in the past because of the disunity within his own party's ranks. In 1977, Eurocommunism probably reached its high-water mark. In March of that year Carrillo, Marchais and Enrico Berlinguer of Italy met in Madrid amid speculation of an impending break with Moscow and new policies. In the wake of the Polish crisis, Marchais had returned to the fold, Carrillo's authority was shaken and Berlinguer was left alone to lead the offensive. This the Italians did without pulling punches. The Eurocommunist critique was still largely within the bounds of Palmiro Toghatti's polycentrism, which held that the Soviet model was not appropriate for Western societies. Jaruzelski's coup drove Italian Communists to condemn the Soviet system and the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty for bloc countries, and to attack the Soviet leadership as well as its foreign policy. Incensed, the Russians denounced this as "sacrilege."

But their anathemas no longer carry the lethal sting that they had when Stalin was in power. The only protests within the Italian party against Berlinguer's policies came from Armando Cossutta, on the central committee, and Interstampa, a publication that invariably adheres to the Moscow line. The Russians quickly realized it was tactically stupid to fight the battle over Solidarity. They will bide their time and eventually criticize the leadership for being too soft on capitalist rule in Italy and on American imperialism elsewhere in the world.

The rejection of the Soviet Union as a model has always been the indispensable beginning of an independent Eurocommunism, but it is only a beginning. Independence from Moscow meant the Communist parties had to come up with social and economic policies of their own. After twenty-five years of relative prosperity under capitalism, the Eurocommunists decided to follow the social democratic way. But just as they were being converted to the system, the system went into a recession. This made Berlinguer's "historic compromise" an irrelevance, and Marchais is clearly leading his party into what has traditionally been referred to as the "dustbin of history." Only the Italian C.P. seems capable of pointing the way to the future, but its success will ultimately depend on its ability to formulate socialist solutions for the current economic crisis and to devise an anti-imperialist foreign policy that is not subservient to the Soviet Union. But these are the historical tasks facing all European Communists, and the entire Western left, for that matter.

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