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.