Sunday, December 13, order reigned in Warsaw. Martial law had been proclaimed. Tanks patrolled the streets of the capital. Most of the leaders of Solidarity were behind bars or interned in camps. The authorities could arrest people at will. Transport and communications, the mines and the factories were placed under military control. Poles who disobeyed the martial-law decree faced penalties ranging from two years in jail to the firing squad. The extraordinary victories of Gdansk and the freedoms won by, the Polish workers apparently had been crushed.
The Polish labor movement faced a tragic dilemma. If it did not react, if it passively acquiesced in the takeover, it would lose all its precious conquests. But if it fought back, its members risked their lives and a civil war. Even if the workers could paralyze the military, they had little hope of victory, because the coup carried out by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was not an example of what Marxists call Bonapartism. The tanks moved in because of a stalemate in the class struggle. In Poland the stalemate is international; Soviet troops weigh heavily in the balance. The new Polish junta, the twenty-one officers forming the Military Council of National Salvation, made no bones about it. Their December 13 proclamation ended with the words, "This is our last chance to restore order in our own house by our own force."
Noninterference in Poland’s internal affairs was the watchword in the outside world. Let the Poles solve their own problems was the refrain, as though tanks versus people represented democracy in action. The day after the coup, uniformed announcers on Polish radio and television were only too glad to report the indifference of Western officialdom. President Ronald Reagan did not think the crisis was important enough to interrupt his weekend; Brussels talked of ending anarchy, Bonn of the need to show circumspection. Western honor was saved on this occasion by its workers. European labor movements staged protest strikes and mass demonstrations to show their solidarity with their Polish counterparts. With the exception of those in France, European Communists were active in these protests.
There will be plenty of time to examine why the hopes raised in August of last year have been dashed, to analyze the illusions of Solidarity and the calculations of the rulers. Now it is enough to recall that at the heart of this confrontation lies the problem of the Communist Party’s refusal to give up its monopoly of power. Immediately after the victory of the Gdansk strikers last year, there was a widespread belief that the government would govern and that the union would defend the interests of the workers, but the economic crisis crushed such hopes. The government had to introduce unpalatable reforms. It could do so only with the blessing of Solidarity, and the union, understandably, did not wish to be saddled with the responsibility for unpopular programs without a share of the power.
The only solution lay in a compromise between Poland’s social forces and the imperatives of geography. Solidarity had to grasp that there could be, at best, a creeping revolution, a gradual assumption of power. The party had to resign itself to the idea that the days of its monopoly were over. There was a time when it seemed that a system of dual power could be institutionalized. One parliamentary chamber was to remain dominated by the Communist Party, the other was to be controlled by representatives of the workers’ councils in factories and offices. On November 4, when Solidarity leader Lech Walesa met General Jaruzelski, with Archbishop Josef Glernp acting as middleman, this compromise still seemed possible. A few days later, Solidarity was offered one of seven seats on a national council packed with puppet parties and phony unions representing the government. Both sides then raised their stakes, and the confrontation was on.
In spite of foreign indifference and the sermons of moderation preached by the leaders of the Catholic Church, the military’s triumph was not unalloyed. It is one thing to threaten workers with a gun and quite another to get them to work. Men and women who have just tasted freedom and rediscovered their collective power will not easily be bullied into obedience. Solidarity had an emergency plan that, after the initial shock, it put into practice. The few leaders who had managed to escape the Saturday night swoop of the police in Gdansk set up a national committee, provisionally led by Miroslaw Krupinski, called for a general strike and occupied mines and factories.
The only hope is that once both sides have made a show of their strength, the junta will enter into serious negotiations with Walesa and his comrades, after freeing them from detention and recognizing them as the leaders of a union with nearly 10 million members–the bulk of the working people in Poland.
My friends in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdynia and Gdansk are either in jail or in hiding. They run grave risks and struggle with their consciences. Unable to help them, impotent, I can only curse their enemies, the uniformed and jackbooted party champions of law and order, and recall what Poland’s greatest socialist fighter once said: "Order reigns in Warsaw…. You stupid lackeys. Your order is built on sand…." In these words, Rosa Luxemburg asserted the perenniality of revolution. Yes, the military’s order is built on sand-and on social injustice. The Gdansk strikers revealed ‘ this to the world, including their comrades throughout Eastern Europe. The Polish proletariat opened the breach and showed a way. At the same time it raised the hope that the indispensable transformation from below may be carried through, not smoothly or peacefully, but without a bloody confrontation. It is only this last possibility that is now in question. Jaruzelski and his henchmen should know that tanks can at most delay the course of history and that sometimes they can have the opposite effect. Exactly eleven years ago the workers from the Lenin shipyards, the pioneers in this unfinished struggle for freedom, were being shot by Polish internal security forces.