Gdansk Showdown

Gdansk Showdown

In the medieval city of Gdansk, in a courtroom packed with police, three men stand in the dock.


In the medieval city of Gdansk, in a courtroom packed with police, three men stand in the dock. They are Wlydyslaw Frasyniuk, a bus driver from Wroclaw; Bogdan Lis, a mechanic from Gdansk; and Adam Michnik, an intellectual from Warsaw. The purpose of the trial is to obliterate the two lessons written nearly five years ago in Gdansk, during the glorious Polish summer of 1980: first, that even in a country calling itself Communist, workers need an autonomous organization to defend their interests; and second, that intellectuals do have a historical role to play if they are linked to a genuine social movement.

The three men are in the dock ostensibly because in February they met with five other Solidarity leaders, including Lech Walesa, and advocated a token fifteen-minute national strike to protest a proposed hike in food prices. After 1970, the Polish rulers were in no position to raise food prices because they feared violent resistance by the workers. The first thing Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski did after his tanks smashed Solidarity in 1981 was increase retail prices. The regime wants to make it plain that it has no intention of giving the workers a veto over economic policies, and will use force if necessary to stop them.

The government, however, does not rest on violence alone. To improve its political standing and to enable it to clinch a deal with the international moneylenders, the regime decided a year ago not to stage a political trial of the dissideuts but to proclaim an amnesty. Why has it chosen to go ahead with the trial now? Partly because it wants to step up repression at home, and partly because it believes the gnomes of Zurich and other banking capitals have no sympathy for strikes and that Western governments are ready to ditch Solidarity.

It is hard to say if Western rulers are being truer to their beliefs when they side with the bosses–even allegedly Communist bosses–against the workers, or when they shed crocodile tears over the rights of labor in Poland (though not, God forbid, in Chile or Turkey). Yet their hypocrisy in no way justifies our inaction. We must protest vociferously both the antidemocratic trial in Gdansk and the secretive way it is being conducted. We owe it to the men in the dock, to the 200 or so political prisoners in Poland and to the millions of workers who gave us such a bold and hopeful example. The Jaruzelski government is testing how far it can go without provoking a popular outcry that government and financial circles could not ignore. For once, our voices do matter. So does our silence.

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