As a follow up to our recent article about Solidarność (see: leftcom.org) we are republishing three of the leaflets that the CWO and Battaglia Comunista distributed in 1980-1 among workers in Britain, Italy, France, and the USA on the events unfolding in Poland.
Lessons of the Class Struggle in Poland
International leaflet issued by CWO & Battaglia Comunista
The biggest class battles of the last ten years have recently taken place in Poland. We must learn as much as we can from the advances and limitations of these struggles.
The first lesson is that the crisis of international capitalism affects the Eastern bloc countries as much as the West. These countries are capitalist – only enemies of the working class call them workers’ states. Inflation, unemployment and increasing exploitation are rapidly reducing workers’ living standards in all countries and forcing them to fight back, although, as yet, this response has been sporadic and confined to a single country at a time. The fierce struggle of the Polish workers is the most advanced response to the crisis yet given by the international working class.
The second great lesson is that only when workers fight back on a mass scale can they achieve even a temporary economic victory, and that this fight must move from the economic to the political level. Polish workers spread their strikes from one industry to the next, up and down the country without respect for the usual bosses’ divisions. They united their struggles by mass assemblies and inter-factory strike committees made up of directly elected and revocable delegates. When the state unions tried to get them to accept a wage increase and return to work they refused. They knew that the pay increases which they had won in their strikes of 1970 & 1976 had been eaten up by inflation, and so they took up the demand for free trade unions which they thought could protect them permanently from the attacks of the bosses. Although they were right to take the fight onto a political plane, the Polish workers have been tricked into fighting to create the very organisations which will undermine their struggle. The leaders of the new unions, like Wałęsa, show already that these unions defend the state and the capitalist economy. They now urge workers not to strike and tell them they must show class solidarity by working harder! They have already called for an increase in work and productivity; they have called for social peace and responsibility, just like the unions do in every country. This is what happens to every organisation which permanently negotiates wages with the bosses – it accepts the rules of capitalism, which in this period means accepting reductions in workers living standards. For this reason the new unions in Poland, which seemed to be a victory for the working class, were from the first day a weapon in the hands of the capitalist class; a barrier to class struggle both now & in future.
The ruling class is always divided into factions. Each faction competes with the other in finding the best way to run the economy, but all factions agree that the exploitation of the workers must be maintained. In struggling against the state, the Polish working class has got mixed up with those capitalist factions which oppose the state – namely the pro-western dissidents and the church. This doesn't mean, as the Stalinists say, that the Polish working class is counter-revolutionary. On the contrary, it shows that it is still relatively easy for capitalist factions to gain control of the workers struggle and channel it towards false objectives and therefore to defeat.
It would be much easier for the working class to overcome these diversions if it had, within its ranks, a political force acting on the basis of a revolutionary programme to take the lead in fighting the forces and organisations which are used by the bosses to influence the workers. The presence of a revolutionary minority does not mean that every struggle ends in a victory for the class. Nevertheless it is a guarantee that the experience of a partial defeat would enable the workers to avoid the same trap in the next struggle. Each battle would then strengthen the class consciousness of the proletariat and be a step towards the communist revolution.
WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES
The entire world capitalist class is attacking the working class and preparing for war which is capitalism's only solution to its economic crisis. The working class is being slow to respond. Our class is still chained to the politics of the ruling class, still dominated by trade unions which imprison workers within the interests of capitalism. We have to follow the example of our fellow workers in Poland:
MASS STRUGGLE IN DEFENCE OF OUR IMMEDIATE INTERESTS
CONTROL OF THAT STRUGGLE THROUGH OUR OWN ORGANISATIONS
Against capitalism's plans for war we must answer with our own class response – revolutionary defeatism. This is the combined action of great masses of workers in strikes and mutinies against their own ruling class. The working class must use today’s battles against the attacks of the bosses as the training ground for tomorrow's action. It is only in today's battles that workers can steel themselves and develop the will to answer the bosses with revolutionary defeatism tomorrow.
As the ruling class prepares not only its economic and military forces for war but also its propaganda so the working class must oppose this propaganda. The run-ups to World War 1 and World War 2 show the capitalists are very skilful in getting the working class to side with imperialism and kill fellow workers from other countries. The events in Poland show that today, even in that country, the bosses are able to undermine a movement of great revolutionary potential. We must begin the great task of destroying the capitalist forces at work within the heart of the working class. For this task the working class needs an international revolutionary organisation with a single strategy – the revolutionary programme.
The organisations signing this leaflet are taking up this task to ensure that the struggle in Poland has not been in vain, we appeal to class conscious workers, to revolutionaries to unite and help us in the work of building the international class party of the proletariat. The party which will be able to co-ordinate the rising tide of struggle of the world’s workers; to relight the fires of communist revolution and lead the working class to its liberation.
WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!
This leaflet is being distributed in Britain, France, Italy and the U.S.A
Il Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Battaglia Comunista)
Communist Workers’ Organisation
Governments and Bosses are in Solidarity with Solidarność
The International Working Class must show Solidarity with the Polish Workers
The military takeover by General Jaruzelski – head of the Government and of the Polish "Communist" Party – has forced a drastic remedy on the working class for a situation which was getting more out of control.
Poland is affected by the same international crisis of capitalism which is causing discontent amongst workers of all countries. Like everywhere else, the bosses’ forces of ‘law and order’ have been called in to defend the interests of capitalism. This means even greater attacks on the living standards and working conditions of the working people. Those who do the work are being made to pay for the crisis caused by the capitalist system. Lack of profits is crippling capitalism in Poland in exactly the same way as in the West. The Polish bosses and their State are caught in the grip of a world crisis which is worse for Poland because of its economic dependence on capitalist Russia. They are forced to increase prices sky-high, to ration working class necessities, to impose further speed-ups and increase “productivity” (that is, exploitation).
During the present commotion we must not forget that Wałęsa and his cronies, just like our Len Murrays and Terry Duffys1 , have been telling the workers for the last few months to accept the situation. Solidarność has asked Polish workers to renew Saturday working and has sabotaged independent attempts by the workers to defend their own class interests. But if in the West the trade unions are still, unfortunately, controlling the situation; if the distrust of the unions has not yet led to a workers‘ struggle outside and against them, in Poland the seriousness of the situation is driving the workers into action – while Solidarność was acting as a brake and calling for calm!
When strikes broke out (in Bydgoszcz and other towns) against his advice Wałęsa became desperate. This is the background to the clampdown by the Polish State.
If the "free" trade union is pulverised into dust it will be because it has failed in the task for which it was born: It has failed to be the guard dog with a democratic face to prevent workers‘ anger from getting out of hand.
The capitalist crisis gives the Polish working class only one alternative. Either negotiate with the capitalists, which means accepting more attacks on their living standards and working conditions. This also means accepting imperialism's war preparations – the only real solution CAPITAL has to its crisis.
Or fight for their interests by taking the struggle into their own hands, which means an open attack on the capitalist system. Unions, whether "free" or not, always want to "negotiate" and Solidarność is no different. It has kept the workers disarmed and passive. By doing so it prepared the way for what is now happening against the working class.
• Our class brothers and sisters in Poland need more than trade unions, just as workers in the West need more than peace demonstrations.
• There is a need to renew the revolutionary struggle of the working class
• There is a need for real socialism to destroy the myth that the Eastern bloc has anything to do with socialism.
• There is a need to return to the historical programme of working class freedom and to a political platform which will achieve this.
• There is a need for international working class solidarity.
SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
In Britain and elsewhere, solidarity with the Polish workers means to struggle with them against capitalism; against preparations for imperialist war; against lay-offs, speed-ups and "rationalisations".
If governments, bosses and bourgeois of all descriptions (including reactionaries like Thatcher and the Pope) are defending Solidarność, it's obvious that this "free" trade union isn't in the interests of the working class.
If the Polish workers fight increased exploitation and revolt against the State then this is the struggle which we must give our class solidarity to. Already in some European countries union hacks, who have for years been selling out the workers by negotiating lay-offs and wage cuts, are calling for token strikes to support Solidarność. Yet these same union hacks in Britain were the ones who did not block the import of cheap coal (cheap because of the low wages of Polish miners) from Poland brought in by the bosses to try to break the miners’ strike in 1974.
Demonstrate your solidarity with Polish workers by carrying on the class struggle at home!
Launch again the battle cry of the international working class, "WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE AGAINST CAPITALISM"
This leaflet has been jointly produced and given out in Britain, Italy and France by the Communist Workers’ Organisation and the Internationalist Communist Party (Italy). READ WORKERS’ VOICE – CWO paper.
Poland: A Warning to the Workers of the World
Order reigns in Poland. The troops of Jaruzelski patrol the streets and workplaces. Thousands of militant workers are in jail and any opposition to martial law leads to further arrests and summary imprisonment. All the gains which the workers had wrested from their rulers are lost; the five day week, the right to strike and organise. All the measures which the workers struggle had held back in 1970 and 1976 are introduced; 400 increases in food prices operate since the coup.
The class struggle in Poland will revive. Jaruzelski and Co. will not be able to resolve the terrible economic crisis which is gripping Poland. But for the moment the largest and most militant working class movement for decades has been SMASHED and DEFEATED. What went wrong?
POLAND SHOWS THE NEED FOR A PARTY
Events in Poland demonstrate once against that even the most militant and united working class movement will ultimately fail, unless the leadership of it is gained by a real communist party. The party which realises that the economic crisis of capitalism (east and west) is insoluble, and that the ONLY solution to the workers problems lies in revolution. There were signs that some workers in Poland were beginning to see this, but most remained trapped in terrible illusions;
• Illusions that the Catholic Church, the accomplice of oppression and exploitation through history would help them.
• Illusions that the Russian workers were their enemies, and not their friends.
• Illusions that western style capitalism was a preferable social system to the state capitalism that exploited them.
The Polish workers paid dearly for these illusions. In the next round of struggle a priority is an organised communist group to expose these illusions and point the real way ahead. This is in solidarity with the Russian workers and against all reactionary groups motivated by nationalist and religious poison.
POLAND AS AN EXAMPLE FOR THE BOSSES TO FOLLOW
Events in Poland are a warning to the working class of the entire world. As the crisis worsens the bosses everywhere will more and more be tempted to opt for “Polish” solutions to the their problems. It is no accident that the Wall St bankers and those in Europe welcome Jaruzelski’s coup; by helping to resume normal exploitation, it would help to resume normal debt payments. Coming on the heels of the coup in Turkey the year before2 , also provoked by a massive working class struggle, Poland is a green light for capitalism to get tough with the working class.
But getting tough with the workers is not the only way the bosses – east and west – try to deal with the worsening economic crisis. As it gets more and more out of control, they openly prepare for their “final solution” to the crisis; rearmament and WAR. Poland is being used openly by the ruling class as an excuse to beat the war drum.
Thus we have the sickening spectacle of Reagan and Co. proclaiming their sympathy for the Polish workers and protesting against their repression and conditions. AT THE SAME TIME Reagan is using troops to break an air workers’ strike and carting militants to jail in chains! And as in Warsaw, thousands of poverty stricken workers in Washington queue for handouts of food in freezing weather. The US is also silent about the repression of workers in Turkey (a NATO country) which has led to 250 dead and 25,000 jailed! In all this they are being supported by trades unions, calling for strikes in solidarity with the Polish workers (as in the US and Italy) or for workers to work extra unpaid to aid Poland (e.g. Basnett in the UK3 ). And it is these same unions who have broken every attempt by workers in the west to defend themselves against the effects of the crisis, by openly collaborating with the bosses! Solidarność in Poland played exactly the same role as they do; to control, deflect and defeat the anger and struggle of the class, and keep it in bounds acceptable to the ruling class.
WORKERS, DON’T BE FOOLED! Those who hypocritically proclaim their solidarity with the Polish workers are their worst enemies, AND OURS AS WELL. Reagan, the Pope, Berlinguer4 and Basnett are all agents of capitalist exploitation.
WORKERS, DON’T BE FOOLED! The bosses are using Poland as an EXCUSE to go on with their war preparation, and to get us to accept “sacrifices in the national interest” (i.e. wage cuts and the dole).
Real solidarity with the workers in Poland does not mean uniting with our own rulers against the Russian “enemy”, but in carrying on our OWN struggle to defend ourselves against the capitalists, and to fight their war preparations. But the threat of war can only be removed when we overthrow capitalism – east and west.
REAL SOLIDARITY WITH POLISH WORKERS
Real solidarity with Polish workers means working among exiles and in Poland for an understanding of WHY they were defeated. It means TOTAL opposition to the pseudo-solidarity of the exploiters and accomplices like Reagan and Co. It means explaining to workers here the reasons for the Polish defeat. By building a real communist movement in the workplaces and amongst the unemployed we can avoid its repetition here.
- 1Len Murray (1922-2004) and Terry Duffy (1922-1985) were British trade unionists. Murray was the General Secretary of the TUC in years 1973–1984 and a Labour Party politician. In 1976 he was created a life peer as Baron Murray of Epping Forest. Duffy was the President of the AUEW (regarded as the no. 2 union in the UK at the time) in years 1978-1985, and on the General Council of the TUC from 1978 until his death.
- 2The 1980 military coup in Turkey was headed by Kenan Evren (1917-2015). The 1970s in Turkey were a time of rising class struggle, escalating political violence between the far-left and the far-right and political paralysis (elections of 1977 had no winner, and the Turkish Parliament was unable to elect a President prior to the coup). The coup was carried out under the pretext of bringing back law and order and the armed forces ruled the country for the next three years, crushing all opposition.
- 3David Basnett (1924-1989) was a British trade unionist. In 1966 he was elected to the General Council of the TUC, was the President of the TUC in 1978, and in 1979 founded Trade Unionists for a Labour Victory. Between 1973 and 1986 he was the General Secretary of the NUGMW (modern day GMB). He was created a life peer in 1987 as Baron Basnett of Leatherhead.
- 4Enrico Berlinguer (1922-1984) was an Italian politician, leader of the Italian Communist Party from 1972 until his death. He was the first to announce that the PCI would be adopting "eurocommunism", and then paved the way for the "historic compromise" with the Christian Democrats in the 1970s.