Solidarity–Lest We Forget

Solidarity–Lest We Forget

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.


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.

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.


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.


Fearful Symmetry


On each of the two occasions I returned to America this year, I pleaded the case that Solidarity and El Salvador were part of the same struggle. What I did not bargain for was the ease with which people in the United States confused communism with the Soviet Union or cited Jaruzelski’s coup to discredit the very idea of a radical transformation of society. And this discrediting, after all, remains the main purpose of official propaganda on both sides of the ocean.

After the sudden uprising of workers and students in France in 1968 and the so-called "hot autumn" which followed in Italy, after the economic crisis that destroyed the myth of permanent prosperity and the rise of sporadic but numerous movements undermining capitalism’s ideological domination, the establishment badly needed an argument to convince the rebels that any attempt to unify their struggle, to evolve into a global movement, was doomed to lead to disaster, to the gulag archipelago. In France in the 1970s, this ideological task was duly carried out by the group of thinkers known as the nouveaux philosophes acting as heralds for the prophet Solzhenitsyn. The performance was easier to stage in France or Italy, where the ideological influence of powerful Communist parties had in the past prevented a discussion of the crimes of the Stalin era. In the United States and Britain, however, the God-that-failed controversy had been played out thirty years earlier, and it was strange to hear it all over again. Or, to put it differently, it was surprising to discover so many Columbuses in America.

I will not dwell on the headline-grabbing mea culpas of Susan Sontag at the Solidarity rally in New York City’s Town Hall last February. Rather, I will discuss the incomparably more honest and moving article by Jacobo Timerman in these pages [see "Moral Symmetry," March 6]. Timerman, you may recall, condemns both fascism and communism ("Communism is an enemy because it is communism…and fascism is what it is…"). Personally, I see no reason why one should hand over once-precious names to the adversary, why a movement conceived to abolish all forms of exploitation should be equated with the regime prevailing in a land of repression, why barbed wire should be confused with Marx, or Jaruzelski with the defense of socialism. Does "communist" become an insult because Brezhnev pretends to bear the name? We did not cease to be socialists because Hitler called himself a National Socialist.

Admittedly, it may be awkward to add a qualifier every time one uses the expression "socialist" countries or "Communist" bloc. The difference, however, is not purely semantic. On closer scrutiny, Timerman condemns Communism in all its versions, with or without Inverted commas. He only condemns capitalism in its most diseased form, fascism– that is to say capitalism run amok. And his movingly written argument also shows just how far a socialist and a liberal can walk together before they have to part company. When, for example, he takes to task Julio Cortàzar, the Argentine novelist, for whitewashing Cuba by ignoring the censorship prevailing there, the socialist mutters approvingly, "Yes, freedom is only freedom when it is available to those who think differently." But Timerman casts out the other part of Cortàzar’s argument, namely that the growth of illiteracy in the countries of Latin America is a form of cultural genocide, and a socialist cannot accept the idea that freedom can be so empty of all social content.

So many monstrosities have been spawned over the last sixty years by Communists under the pretext of contempt for formal or bourgeois freedoms that I would like to strip the palimpsest of its Stalinist accretions by going back to the days of the Bolshevik revolution. Accused at the time by Lenin and Trotsky of democratic fetishism, Rosa Luxemburg replied:


We have never been idol-worshippers of formal democracy. Nor have we been idol-worshippers of socialism or Marxlsm either…. [We] have always revealed the hard kernel of social Inequality and lack of freedom hidden under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom–not in order to reject the latter but to spur the working class into not being satisfied with the shell, but rather, by conquering political power, to create a socialist democracy to replace bourgeois democracy–not to eliminate democracy altogether.


These words, written so long ago, reman valid today–and still provide the key to the underlying unity of our struggle in Poland, In El Salvador and in the heartland of Western capitalism.


Cracks in the Ice


The establishment of a military dictatorship in Poland, dashing tremendous hopes, gave the right-wing propagandists a golden opportunity to revive the image of "communism" as the evil incarnate and as permanent hell. However horrible the regime in El Salvador, they argue, it is preferable to one from which there is no return. If you don’t like the system prevailing at home, you must resign yourself to accepting it as a lesser evil. It would be absurd to reply by denying differences and lumping together, say, Britain and the Greece of the colonels on the ground that the governments of both were forms of "bourgeois dictatorship." On the other hand, the argument drawn from Rosa Luxemburg explains why we are fighting on all fronts at the same time.

It must be added that Poland provokes strange postures on the left as well. Whether bewildered by the curious mixture of class struggle and Catholicism, repelled by memories of Polish anti-Semitism or unable to abandon the fiction of a "socialist" Russia, a substantial section of the Western left has been trying to treat the saga of Solidarity as a thing of the past. If in the right-wing version nothing can change in the Soviet bloc because communism is unredeemable, in this "leftish" version change can only come from above. The trouble with both these theories is that they ignore the facts. The strikes and skirmishes of May are only a reminder. Even before they occurred it was obvious that the Polish labor movement did not begin in August 1980 and that it did not end on December 13, 1981, with Jaruzelskl’s crackdown. Solidarity was the pioneer in a vast, complex process of reawakening the working people of the Soviet bloc.

What shape this movement will take, how rapidly it will spread and how much the cost in blood will be no one can forecast with precision. One thing is clear, though: we on the democratic left can play a part in influencing the outcome. As outsiders with much more room to maneuver, we must tell Polish resisters that all the enemies of Brezhnev are not automatically their allies, just as we must tell Sandinists they are wrong in refusing to greet a Solidarity delegation. Indeed, it is our duty to repeat stubbornly to the fighters whose vision is often confined to their own terrain that their battles, however distant, are common, that they are part of our joint fight for survival in this nuclear age, a survival that can only be achieved by our struggle all over the globe for mastery over our fate.

There are many possible ways to the Poland station. Efforts are being made to turn this provisional tragedy into a source of confusion, despair and deep division, reviving the Manichean alignments of the cold war. But the Polish crisis may also mark the formation of quite different coalitions. The superpowers in their complicated, conflicting coexistence have certainly one thing in common, a profound hostility to movements from below–and rightly so. If the downtrodden and the exploited, the oppressed and all.those who try to understand the world in order to change it, rise above the artificial barriers that divide them, they will start to give some historical meaning, on a planetary scale, to the slogan scrawled on the walls in Poland: "The snows of winter will start melting to their horror and the first shoots of spring will begin to blossom for our delight."

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