Solidarity–The Road to Power

Solidarity–The Road to Power

For the next weeks and months the eyes of the world will be focused on Poland, where events are now unfolding at an unexpectedly dramatic pace.


For the next weeks and months the eyes of the world will be focused on Poland, where events are now unfolding at an unexpectedly dramatic pace. When I had lunch in Warsaw last May with Tadeusz Mazowiecki and we pondered the consequences of the forthcoming general election, I didn’t think that three months later he would be forming the next Polish government and neither did he. The new situation raises a host of questions.

Clearly, the “revolution from above” brought to Eastern Europe by the Red Army after World War II was stuck. But now will it go full circle, ending in a capitalist restoration? Or can it be given a different conclusion? We also know that the Brezhnev Doctrine has been discarded by Brezhnev’s successor. But how much change is General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev able to tolerate in his sphere of influence? Last but not least, Poland, for all its peculiarities–the powerful church, the numerous peasantry and the strong labor movement–is part of the family. At stake is the fate of the Stalinist heritage, and developments in Poland will affect other countries of Eastern Europe as well–especially the Soviet Union. We should, therefore, examine Poland’s unfolding drama in all its specificity, keeping in mind this wider dimension.

But first, why did the plot suddenly quicken? Let us recall the scenario. Last autumn, after a series of strikes, the regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski decided that it had no chance of reforming the economy without popular support and opted for what was called at the time a “historic compromise.” The terms for the introduction of the opposition into the system were worked out in a round-table conference. The Communist Party guaranteed itself a parliamentary majority by reserving two-thirds of the seats in the crucial lower house, or Sejm, for the ruling coalition (299 out of 460). Solidarity was allowed to compete for the remaining 161 seats, and for all of the 100 seats in the upper house, or Senat. The assumption was that if this form of coexistence worked for four years, then a genuine election for all seats would be allowed. This Fabian timetable has now been upset.

When Puppets Cease to Respond

Shortly before the round table, when some leaders of Solidarity revealed to me the proposed electoral deal, I argued that the party would never buy it. My conviction was based on the assumption that good elections discredit bad ones; that if an entirely free vote was allowed in part of the election. it would overshadow the entire poll. I was proved wrong. For whatever reasons, whether presumption or plain blunder, the Communist Party accepted the deal.

The landslide came in June. Solidarity captured ninety- nine seats in the Senat, whose members are elected by majority rule, not proportional representation, and all those to which it was entitled in the lower house. On paper, the ruling coalition still had a majority, but the arithmetic was already obsolete. The rubber-stamp Parliament suddenly came to life and even the puppets began to dance on their own. The C.P.3 once faithful and obedient allies–the United Peasant Party, with seventy-six seats, and the Democratic Party, with twenty-seven seats–could no longer be counted upon. With only 173 Communist representatives, not all of them reliable, the party had lost control of the situation. The new Constitution provides that a bill rejected by the Senat can become law only if approved in the lower house by a two-thirds majority. This the C.P. could no longer muster, so Solidarity had an effective veto.

Even in constituencies where it was not allowed to put up candidates, Solidarity could whisper to the voters whom they should favor among contenders from the Communist side. Above all, Peasant and Democratic party members were free to do their own thinking. When you bully and bribe your allies, you should not be astonished if they go for a better bid when the opportunity arises.

The new political arithmetic had an immediate effect. The president was to be elected by both houses together. General Jaruzelski scraped through, on July 19, by the grace of Solidarity. Having fulfilled its part of the bargain, the union found itself in a dilemma. With its effective veto in the legislature, it would be blamed by the people for whatever happened. Was it worthwhile to have responsibility without power? Hence Adam Michnik’s slogan: “Their president–our prime minister.” Bronislaw Geremek, the leader of the Solidarity group in Parliament, seemed to have doubts about a government in which Solidarity did not have full control. Then, while Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak was dragging his feet on forming a coalition, Lech Walesa surprised everyone by clinching a deal with the leaders of the Peasant and Democratic parties under which they would support a Solidarity candidate. And that is how, on August 24, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Prime Minister.

A Party in Search of a Role

Why did General Jaruzelski accept this outcome? Possibly, once the movement was set in motion, he had little room for maneuver. Or he may have assumed that Solidarity would get bogged down in economic difficulties. Or it may have been the only way to get a large coalition, with Solidarity as a senior partner, since the union had refused to be a junior one. And as President, Jaruzelski retains control over the armed forces and the police, has a say in foreign affairs and, in principle, can dissolve Parliament. He therefore has some room for maneuver.

On the other hand, the party whose secretaryship he just handed over to the former Prime Minister, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, is in a state of shock. How traumatic the experience of losing power is for the C.P. can only be understood by contrasting their system of rule with that in the West. In the capitalist world the wealthy have political influence because they are rich, not because they hold public office. In the Soviet world the apparatchik owes his relative privileges to his political position. If he loses it, he is deprived of everything. Remove the nomenklatura, i.e., those nominated to key jobs, from this system, and it is hollow.

The extent of the party’s bewilderment may be gathered from the debate over its future now carried on in Trybuna Ludu, its official organ. There is a good sample in the August 17 issue. The author claims that to recover its leading role the party must replace ideology with pragmatism; run the country not according to capitalist or socialist rules but in keeping with economic principles; remove class barriers to membership “since our program now becomes attractive even for people living on capital.” If it does all these things, how can the party still be considered left wing? The author’s answer is that it will cushion the impact of the market on the weak and help them with social welfare programs. Still, he adds, the party should not forget that if it is open to all it should target “the dynamic, who are bearers of progress and development.” May we take that to mean Poland’s budding yuppie class?

This article, exaggerated in tone, conveys the mood of the party reformers, who quarrel among themselves not about the degree of socialism that their “social democratic” program should contain, but about the speed with which price controls should be abolished or about the degree of collaboration with Solidarity. Tomorrow they may fall apart over the role the nomenklatura should play in the privatization of Poland’s industry.

The so-called reformers, however, are not alone in the C.P. A recent meeting in Warsaw of party secretaries in big industrial plants revealed a mood of resentment against the leadership from the rank and file. Here are two examples of questions: “Whose interests is the party defending? Are they really those of the workers?” And: “In a free play of prices with whom is one playing and what chance do the workers have in this game?” One should add to this element the party members in the official trade union (known as O.P.Z.Z.), who are eager to consolidate their influence among the workers if Solidarity becomes a champion of social peace and opposes strikes.

In principle, a spell in opposition could, like taking the cure at a spa, give the party a much-needed slimming treatment. It now claims 2 million members, 1 million fewer than in 1980, and it would lose many more if it had no jobs to offer. Yet the prospect is that the party will be on the fringes of power rather than in the opposition. Given the program of the reformers, one cannot see why the party, already a discredited organization, should suddenly become the backbone of the Polish left. The party congress will reveal what line was chosen. It may also herald a split.

A Movement in Search of an Identity

If the party is divided by its defeat, Solidarity may well be split by its victory. To understand why, one must go back to the origins of the movement. Solidarity was born in a strike. At one stage, it was a huge trade union, numbering nearly 10 million members. Supported by the people, this working-class movement had the intelligentsia at its service, This was the moment, in November 1981, when the party leaders could have made a historic compromise with Solidarity and agreed to the formation of an upper house representing the revived workers’ councils on a national scale. They chose to stage a military coup instead.

The party did this on purpose. It was eager to make a deal with the church, not with the workers. Indeed, its purpose was to break the alternative labor movement, and in this it half succeeded. The nature of the resistance shifted the center of gravity from the factory to the underground press, from the workers to the intelligentsia. The Catholic Church, negotiating with the government on the one hand, and providing shelter for the underground movement on the other, was also strengthening its position. This picture is both accurate and inaccurate. In a sense, the workers did remain the backbone of the movement, the solid in Solidarity. Early last year most people were burying Solidarity. It took two waves of strikes to resurrect it and force the government to negotiate. Now the situation is reversed. The intelligentsia are walking in the corridors of power and the labor union has fewer than 2 million members.

It may be objected that it takes time to rebuild a union. Possibly. The snag is that the policies envisioned by the new government could hurt the union. If, in its search for capitalist efficiency, the government just tells the workers to tighten their belts; if, in its quest for privatization or foreign capital, it allows the spread of nonunion enterprises and no-strike agreements; if, in short, the movement that was born to assert the workers’ right to autonomous representation is ordered to toe another line- then the gap between government and union will be too wide even for Lech Walesa to close. The workers are not unaware of the gravity of the economic situation, but they must be offered something to justify any further sacrifices they are required to make.

Solidarity, too, must hold a congress in the near future. It is now living on borrowed democracy, with a charismatic leader revealing great political s a y , with labor leaders and political advisers who have shown their mettle but were elected or chosen long ago. with even the parliamentary candidates chosen by the leadership. True, the candidates subsequently received a mandate from the people (unless we interpret the general election as a vote of no confidence in their predecessors). But Solidarity must now hear the views and accept the verdict of its rank and file.

The next Solidarity congress will have to deal with the unanswered question: Does the labor union want to create a labor party, as in Britain, to represent its interests, or does it want to remain a union, allowing its members to express their political opinions through the various parties that will be set up? In this battle, cleavages will appear not only between unionists and politicians, but also among various factions, with the Reaganauts and the social democrats prevailing. It will be interesting to learn how loud the voices calling for self-management in the workplace will be in this chorus.

Under the Shadow of Cardinal Glemp

Solidarity’s split personality will be one handicap for the new Prime Minister; the shadow of the church may be another. Surprisingly, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was picked as Prime Minister partly because, of all the serious candidates, he was the only Catholic intellectual. However, living with Poland’s powerful church is a problem, and its present Primate is quite a phenomenon. Józef Cardinal Glemp’s recent anti-Semitic outbursts over the Carmelites in Auschwitz should not really come as a surprise.

Glemp is what the Poles call an endek, an allusion to a reactionary party, the National Democracy, which in the interwar years pandered to the nationalism of the middle classes. The party was not in favor of the extermination of Jews, but simply of using all possible legal means to expel them. The Cardinal has no love for “atheistic communism,” though he knows how to render unto Caesar. He has no love for Solidarity either, particularly for its lay left wingers. He would prefer to have a reactionary Christian Democracy and a union to boot.

In fairness, it must be added that the church cannot in its entirety be identified with the Primate. It must also be stressed that anti-Semitism is completely alien to Mazowiecki, who, as a progressive Catholic, is miles away from being an endek. He nevertheless still has to prove that he can govern independently of the church.

Eastern Neighbor, Western Money

In one field the new government’s situation is much better than in the past, namely, in its relations with Poland’s eastern neighbor. Eight years ago the very appointment of Mazowiecki might have been considered an act of war. Recently, the nomination of this “man from outside the nomenklatura” was greeted without antipathy by the Soviet press. It is true that the new Prime Minister went out of his way to please. He suggested that the political change presented an opportunity to improve relations not just between parties but between two societies. He expressed his backing for perestroika and his hope that other countries in Eastern Europe would also be reassured by his policies. He solemnly proclaimed that his government had no intention of leaving the Warsaw Pact. All seems quiet on the eastern front.

If there is a threat of intervention in Polish affairs it comes from the West. This sounds paradoxical since the Poles are complaining that the West does not interfere enough (Poland’s friends should come to the rescue before we begin to drown, pleaded Mazowiecki). The illusions about a Marshall Plan for Poland have vanished. Wits are saying that Cardinal Glemp will soon blame the Jewish lobby for this failure.

More seriously, it is not true that the West is uninterested in the Eastern markets. Capital is not sentimental and it travels on its own terms. It will invade Eastern Europe when it finds it profitable. If, to attract foreign investment, a Solidarity-sponsored government obeys the diktaf of the International Monetary Fund at the risk of a break with its own constituency, then Western capital will be interfering in Poland, if only by proxy.

In Dubious Battle

This is the situation that Mr. Mazowiecki inherits: The country is heavily in debt. Its youth want to emigrate. The economy has the worst of both worlds. It has the lines, the paperwork and the bad distribution of a “planned” system, and the conspicuous consumption, profiteering and tax evasion of a capitalist one, without having the advantages of either. This obviously cannot go on.

But the new Prime Minister also has some assets: the memory of the old days of Solidarity; the people’s need to recover hope and their relative trust in leaders with clean hands; the promise of Lech Walesa to insure peace on the labor front for the next six months; and relative good will both in Moscow and the Western capitals.

Who is the man embarking on this risky and unprecedented venture? Sixty-two-year-old Tadeusz Mazowiecki is a tortured Catholic intellectual, a man with great personal integrity and a stubborn will. A lawyer by training and a journalist by profession, he began his collaboration with the Communist regime under the not very good auspices of the Catholic Pax organization. But he rapidly switched and founded a monthly, Wiez (“The Link”), a journal for people who were trying to reconcile socialism and Christianity. He was always a man of principle. In 1968 he protested against the anti-Semitic campaign. Three years later he tried to set up a commission of inquiry into the massacre of workers in Gdansk. This was too much for the government, and it put an end to his ten years as a parliamentarian. Afterward he led the life of an oppositionist, helping hunger strikers and teaching at the “flying university”–“-lectures on history and politics by dissident teachers in private homes. His great moment came during the strike of 1980, when he inspired a petition of support from intellectuals and then presided over the commission of “experts” helping the strike committee. The close association between him, Geremek and Walesa dates from then. He spent a year in detention after the coup and then resumed his work for Solidarity. Last year he was one of the very rare intellectuals to be found among the Gdansk strikers.

And yet in his investiture speech, he proclaimed: “The long-term, strategic aim of the action of this government will be the recovery by Poland of economic institutions known for a long time and verified. By this I understand a return to the market economy and to a role of the state approaching the one prevailing in the economically developed countries.” This needs no code. It says in plain language–our objective is a return to capitalism.

Which brings me to a sad personal note. Nine years ago I traveled to Poland to greet the extraordinary re-entry onto the political stage of Polish workers “presenting their interests as the superior interests of society as a whole,” as Marx said. They were coming straight out of Marx, I argued, but I was honest enough to add that they were anything but Marxist; indeed, when it came to building socialism in Poland they were like Molière’s M. Jourdain, talking prose without knowing it.

It turns out that unconscious construction is inadequate. After an early move toward worker self-management, in recent years the trend has been in the opposite direction, toward capitalism. And this is the direction in which the the front man who once wanted to reconcile Christianity with socialism now wants to take Poland.

Yet where there is a will, there is not always a way. My hopes today, less sanguine than nine years ago, are linked not with the policy of Solidarity but with its contradictions. They are still linked with the inventive capacity for resistance of the Polish workers, because the saga of Solidarity, if we mean by that the Polish labor movement, is still unfinished.

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