Solidarity--Lest We Forget
Allies and Bedfellows
Last fall, tens of thousands of antinuclear protesters marched in the nations of Western Europe. They were particularly numerous in West Germany, Holland, Britain and Belgium. Their ranks were slightly thinner in Italy and much thinner in France. This wave of hope may soon sweep across Western Europe again.
Then, last December, there was another, sadder protest against the military rape of Poland. Here, the extent of participation was reversed: the left was prominent in France, slightly less so in Italy and conspicuously absent in the tiny demonstrations held in Britain, Belgium and Germany.
This does not mean, as it is fashionable here in Paris to suggest, that the antinuclear protesters are stooges of Moscow. It is perfectly natural that more people should be concerned by the prospects of nuclear holocaust than by the stifling of freedom in Poland. Yet the contrast was too glarIng to take comfort in this explanation, and it cast a pall over the future of the antinuclear movement in Europe. Communists in Stalin's day could swallow all sorts of things without qualms of conscience because they viewed themselves as part of a huge army, aiding the battle for socialism on the crucial Russian front. Nuclear protesters are marching to an entirely different drummer. They are galvanized by a healthy revulsion and by moral Indignation. They cannot afford to turn a blind eye to Soviet policies, domestic or foreign, that shock the conscience.
There are also pragmatic reasons for condemning Soviet repression in Eastern Europe. Although the European disarmament movement may be largely unilateral, it is gaining ground in America and must eventually spread to the Communist bloc. There, too, governments must ultimately be made to respond to pressure from below. This consideration makes the defeat of a democratic movement like Solidarity a blow to the entire antinuclear movement. Thus the bell that tolls for Solidarity tolls for the disarmament movement; we cannot put our heads in the sand and hope that Poland will go away.
A related problem is the temptation on the left to treat the enemies of our enemies as our friends. I encountered this attitude in Poland before Jaruzelski's coup among spokesmen for Solidarity who were reluctant to criticize American imperialism or Reagan's cold war policies in El Salvador. I discovered it In the United States among left wingers who, having duly condemned the coup, were trying to push Poland into the background so as to be able "to get on with the job." Their reluctance to keep the moral heat on the Soviet Union may sometimes spring from the best of reasons--e.g., the belief that one should give priority to the fight against home-grown imperialism. Yet too many scandals have been ignored in the name of clearing out the weeds in our own garden. Another wave of political blindness to crimes perpetrated in the Soviet bloc would be neither forgiven nor forgivable.
Nor does an understandable distaste for our strange political bedfellows justify a mood of withdrawal. The love of the Reagans and the Thatchers for the Polish workers is nauseating. It is easy, however, to show up their hypocrisy for what it is. We need merely demand that Solidarity's conservative sympathizers follow its example and proclaim that all factories and offices should be run by the workers. It is not difficult to imagine the reactions to such a proposal on Wall Street or in corporate board rooms.
But there is a simpler reason that we cannot stand pure and aloof. Unfortunately, we are not yet numerous enough to win victories on our own. Virtue does not lie only in splendid isolation, or vice in sharing platforms or seeking allies. The slippery road begins when we conceal our principles in order to be accepted or worship alien gods to preserve an unholy alliance. To take a concrete example, during the Algerian struggle for independence, Washington had its own motives for hostility to French colonialism. The Algerians were certainly entitled to exploit these conflicts between the two allies. It would have been wrong, however, for them to sing the praises of American democracy and ignore the nature of U.S. imperialism. By the same token, the left cannot condemn American intervention in Vietnam and avert its eyes from Russian tanks in Prague.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter--the American left's reluctance to curse the two superpowers with equal vigor. Apparently, its conditioned reflexes are strong, for many people on the non-Communist left still seem to view Russia, however oppressive, as somehow socialist, and, however "bureaucratically degenerated," as a workers' state. To say that the United States and the Soviet Union both stink is not to equate the epitome of capitalism with the center of postrevolutionary oppression. It simply means that neither country can be described as the kind of society we are striving for. Whether the chances for a radical transformation are now greater on this side or on the other side of the great ideological divide between East and West, whether the hopes of building socialism are higher, say, in France and Italy than in Hungary and Poland, is open to question. But the events in Poland show that in a country where the means of production have been nationalized, a movement of revolt will rapidly raise the question of workers' control over property and power on the shop floor and in the nation at large, despite the understandable antisocialist prejudices of the ruling elite.
The Western left must back Solidarity for more than moral reasons; there are also pedagogical reasons for supporting it. For millions of people socialism In Warsaw or Budapest or Prague is now identified with Soviet tanks; it is being confused with the corrupt and oppressive powers that be. Ideally, we could break the bewildering identification of socialism with Brezhnevism by providing a genuine socialism as an alternative. At the bare minimum, we must prove to our potential partners that socialists side with the victimized workers and not with their jackbooted oppressors.