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.