July 1980: Spontaneous Strikes Run Rampant Everywhere
On Monday, June 30, the government announced a "reorganization of meat distribution". The details are unimportant; the result was an immediate price increase of almost 60% and greater difficulty in obtaining meat. On Tuesday, July 1, strikes broke out in factories throughout Poland: Ursus [tractors] and Huta Warszawa [steel] near Warsaw, at Poznan (metallurgy], at Tczew (transmissions], at Mielec (aviation], at Swidnica [aviation], near Lublin. The Party [PUWP] defined its position toward the strikes: no repression, negotiations at the local level with factory managers who had authority to make concessions at their plant in order to end the strife.
The government's plan was clear; it would avoid a generalized explosion by settling the problems one by one, keeping the workers divided. This plan was feasible because for some time there had been some autonomy in enterprise management. But if the government thus effectively avoided direct political attack and sheltered itself a bit, it furthered the strike because each factory took up the struggle won next door. In actual fact, these tactics resulted in the decentralization of decision- making - not only on the part of management, but also on the workers' side; the already discredited official unions were accustomed only to transmit decisions from above, not to negotiate working conditions in the factory; this situation undoubtedly encouraged the spontaneous appearance of discussion groups and associations for collective decision- making. By July 15, fifty strikes had already broken out or were still going on. They often lasted only a few days; that was enough to make management give in. In some cases, the mere threat of a strike was sufficient. New elements were already visible: the desire to guarantee the demands that were already granted without having constantly to begin the struggle all over again; the continued existence of rank-and-file committees after the struggle had ended - the committees which the rank-and-file had elected or approved and which had negotiated directly with management over the head of the official union.
By this time, things had already gone much further, even though it appeared that the authorities had succeeded in extinguishing the incipient conflagration, On July 17, the city of Lublin (population, 300,000, 100 kilometers from the USSR) was completely paralyzed; railway workers had discovered that a train labelled "fish" was filled with meat and headed for the Soviet Union; they shut down rail traffic by leaving trains and engines on the tracks. Everything was on strike: buses, bread and milk delivery, nursing, construction, water service; the meat would have to be distributed to the population. The government sent Jagielski, deputy Prime Minister; the Party issued an official summons to return to work. Everything ended two days later, but the fact remained that an entire city organized itself to go on strike; the demands did not remain merely economic. A desire to assure the gains already won led to an attempt to set up permanent organs of defence. Fifteen days later, following procedures they themselves set up, the Lublin railway workers began electing union representatives directly and other Lublin workers followed their lead.
Working-class Consciousness is Aroused
Such are the economic, social, political and ideological conditions which moulded these workers' collective consciousness. This collective consciousness would accelerate the pace of subsequent struggles and permit new organizational structures to establish themselves. It was not the KOR and the handful of "free unionists" which precipitated the struggle and turned it into the tidal wave which effectively brought down the entire regime. It was rather the ground swell which opened the way for new structures among which the unions were one of the key elements. The system's reformers used the ground swell as the basis for their organizational project. The end of the strike in Lublin did not end strikes elsewhere: strikes continued to run rampant through the first days of August. The government seemed confident that its strategy of partial concessions would be successful, but its weakness was shown by the extent to which concessions granted in one i place were immediately taken up elsewhere. The underground groups themselves acknowledged that they played a very small part in the outbreak and persistence of the wave of strikes. But now, suddenly, their organizational project was transformed from a far-off ideal into a reality close at hand, especially since their working class contacts were carried to the forefront by the surge of the movement and hundreds of workers, previously unknown, were turning toward them. Only a member of an elitist and hierarchical organization could believe that all this energy could result from the activity of a tiny minority and that if a few individuals - supposedly leaders - were eliminated, the movement would be abruptly broken. The government's attempt to do this had the opposite effect from the one expected; for the rank-and-file as well as the Western mass media (which came looking only for leaders), the repression which now descended gave credibility to the idea that the underground groups had played and were able to play a useful role. In fact, the repression helped the union establish itself in the function it had defined for itself from the beginning. Toward the end of August, the Party found it needed to initiate a new and different approach because its policy of conciliation had brought meagre results. After more than six weeks, the strikes continued; arresting the militants most committed to the "free trade union movement" was clearly not a means to end the strikes. Nevertheless, this is what the authorities attempted.
August 15 - 31, Two Crucial Weeks;
Gdansk: The Institutionalization of the Rank-and-File Movement
The first repressive measure seems to have taken place in Warsaw on Monday, August 11; the police detained and held for nine hours Marek Glessman, "leader" of the garbage collectors' strike. In Gdansk on August 13, the new policy became more explicit when three Lenin Shipyard workers who were connected with the underground independent union were fired (among them were Anna Walentynowicz and Nowicki). Prior to this, the Tri-city [Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia) had largely remained outside the struggle but now the general strike spread like wildfire and was concentrated around the Lenin Shipyards. lf the activity of militants was apparent in the summons to the struggles at the shipyards, the speed with which things moved in the shipyards themselves and then in all enterprises in Gdansk demonstrated yet again workers' spontaneity and the rapid transformation of collective working class consciousness. Last-minute concessions at the shipyards no longer stopped anything, A strike committee was formed by some ten militants [among them, Lech Walesa who had climbed over the wall as soon as he heard news about the strike because "the situation was ripe and he should be at the shipyards") who were quickly joined by one hundred delegates designated by different shipyard departments. The demands no longer had any connection with what had unleashed the strike - or rather, they had a profound connection, being a generalization of what was inherent in the particular repressive event which had ignited the powder barrel: along with economic demands, there was a call for free unions, access to the media, repeal of all repressive measures and an end to certain ruling class privileges.
The government tried to stem the rising tide with the weak means available at the moment; with one hand, settlements at individual enterprises; covert repression with the other. On August 17, twenty-four enterprises in the region were on strike; on August 18, there were 180 in a 100-kilometer area around Gdansk. The strike committee at the shipyards transformed l itself into an inter-factory committee, the MKS, which was composed of two delegates from each factory.
This committee controlled the entire region and resolved transportation and food distribution problems. Although Gierek proclaimed on August 18 that "the only just path is one of dialogue and compromise? the government ignored the MKS; its delegated official, Pyka, stated he could meet only with representatives from individual factories; at the same time, on August 20, twenty KOR members were arrested. In Szczecin, the situation was the same as in Gdansk. MKS committees were set up in other industrial regions, notably in the Silesian mines. A general strike spread throughout Poland without anyone having issued a call for one; rank-and-file committees sprang up on their own and managed everyday activities in ever-larger geographical sectors. The government had to change its policy. It apparently was influenced by two considerations whose relative importance remains unclear: lower echelons of the Party (including certain security forces) went over to the strike and the army chiefs did not want to "restore order" because they lacked confidence in their troops.
One deputy Prime Minister, Jagielski, finally came for discussions with the Gdansk MKS while his counterpart, Barcikowski, negotiated with the Szczecin MKS. The government seemed to capitulate, and seemed to go on capitulating, more or less, until the signing of the "Gdansk accords" and the call to resume work on September 1, issued by the MKS representative, Lech Walesa. This all took place amidst appeals for moderation circulated by the Church, the KOR and by Walesa himself: Gdansk was to be an exemplary island in a Poland hard at work, a safety valve where responsible people who had the situation well under control set up structures appropriate to a modern capitalist Poland. Why has there been so much attention given to the Gdansk accords and so little to those of Szczecin which were signed at about the same time and had the same provisions? At this time, the government was possibly attempting a defensive strategy to try to limit the accords geographically, just as it had earlier tried, unsuccessfully, to restrict them to individual enterprises. The concentration on what happened in Gdansk was due not only to the region's economic importance and the strength of the strike: during the days of strikes p and negotiations, a familiar tactic evolved which was aimed at the resistance movement itself, namely at the workers and their will to resist.
On the one hand, in Gdansk, an inter-factory strike committee held power in a portion of national territory. On the other hand, and this is the more important aspect, the negotiations in Gdansk were not discussions between strikers and the authorities, but a meeting of reformists, some of them Party members, the others connected with the political opposition or with the working class rank-and-file - all of them serving as experts seeking a satisfactory solution in order to "save the Polish nation," namely to make the workers labour "properly" in order to straighten out the capitalist economy. In describing these discussions among experts, Jadwiga Staniszkis spoke of a relaxed atmosphere and added: "One of the reasons was that the experts on both sides were more or less from the same world in the capital. In a way, if one considered only their political approach, their positions could have been reversed." It was not easy to impose this "solution" on the workers, and, in spite of appeals, strikes were still spreading on Wednesday, August 27, especially in the industrial region of the South. This made it urgent to come up with a statement which would save face for the leaders on both sides. On the workers' side, a leadership, the Presidium, made up largely of underground militants who were co-opted at the beginning of the strike, quickly detached itself from the rank-and-file. Many points in the negotiations were imposed either by the experts (underground political militants or economists whose "services" had been accepted) or by Walesa himself, who discussed matters privately with Jagielski. The democracy practiced by those who came, whether from near or far, to "organize the workers" had no relation to the democratic activities of the workers. But this took place in the euphoria of victory. On the governments side too, there were reservations: wouldn't these new structures sweep away a lot of the hard-won posts that many still wanted to defend by force? But those days were past and since the ground swell had shaken up the upper echelons of the Party as well as the economic experts, there was no other alternative but to ride the wave and try to save the essential: class domination. In fact, the Gdansk accords served a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, they put an end to the strikes which threatened to spread; on the other, they attempted to provide a structure which was simultaneously comprehensive, indefinite and efficient, into which the rank-and-file movement could be channelled.
September 1980: Two Bureaucracies Against the Rank-and-File
On Sunday, August 31, Lech Walesa announced not only to all workers in the Gdansk region but to all Polish workers: "The strike is over. We did not get everything we wanted, but we did get all that was possible in the current situation. We will win the rest later because we now have the essential: the right to strike and independent unions." This borders on involuntary * humour: Polish workers had been asserting their right to strike for a long time; and since July they had been exercising their right to independently organize and put forward their own demands. But now that work was resumed in Gdansk, they had to renounce their own demands and adopt the union's, they had to submerge their own rank-and-file organizations in hierarchical structures which issued orders and precise instructions for action; they had to go back to work and again - labour for the prosperity of a system in which they once more ? counted for little. Their autonomous activity, their abundant originality, the direct defence of their own interests, all this - in terms of the intentions of the government and the "free" union - should serve for nothing more than to institute reforms which soften the excessively brutal edges of exploitation. The goal of the reforms was to eliminate revolutionary tendencies in the movement and relegate them to the level of "provocations," and to enjoy the grandiose hollow words of politicians and the various promises of Party leaders. In actual fact, the accords did not serve that function, they did not succeed in eliminating all the revolutionary thrust of the movement. But that was the objective content of the accords. As for the original demands of the strike, they were put to one side: pay raises would not be immediate, only gradual, according to industrial sector and at the discretion of the government. There would be no sliding scale but merely an adjustment hinging on the cost of basic necessities. As for food provisions, and meat supplies in particular, this all remained in the dark.
At the end of August a journalist for Le Monde reported that: "The situation is uncertain enough for the MKS Presidium members to worry that an uncontrolled rank-and-file movement might arise, have unpredictable consequences and jeopardize such an important victory." September 1980 was the month of great equivocation when the majority of workers, in the euphoria over the strength of the workers' movement which had dominated everything else for the past two months, seemed to be satisfied with the vague words which they thought contained their conception of protest and demands, whereas they contained the conceptions of the democratic bourgeoisie. These same workers seemed to have confidence in men who, because of their perseverance in the ranks of the underground opposition during the long years of repression, were above the slightest suspicion; they were unaware that it is the office that makes the man and that even the most honest among them cannot escape the pitfalls of union functions under capital. They were also unaware that many of these new l leaders had the same elitist conceptions as the leaders of the system they were fighting. Walesa, for example, later stated: "I have always been the ringleader, like the billy-goat that leads the flock, like the ox that leads the herd. People need that ox, that billy-goat, otherwise the herd goes on its own, here and there, wherever there is some grass to eat, and nobody follows the right road. A flock without an animal that leads is a l senseless thing without a future." Jadwiga Staniszkis commented about Walesa that he "has an amazing talent for manipulating the masses."
Kuron, pre-eminent among the experts and one of the KOR leaders who was hired right away by the new Solidarity union, was mistaken when he said: "The unions ought to be partners in the administration and protectors of the workers." Other Solidarity leaders already saw the union’s role as participating in economic decision-making at the state as well as the factory level. They obviously ran up against the omnipotent power of capital and of the "Party bourgeoisie" but this is precisely the direction of capital’s history. In difficult periods, capital resorts to appeals for national unity and, for the required time, "calls on the working men" (namely on their licensed organizations] to help manage the crisis and to re-establish the conditions of "normal" exploitation. Kuron was mistaken because he tried to see the role of the new unions in terms of the role of unions in the Western branch of capital. The role of the old unions in the Eastern branch was significantly different. Whereas in the West, the role of unions is to mediate, in the East unions are a political instrument and cannot play this role—the union leaders themselves being members of the capitalist class. The role of the new unions in the Eastern branch seems quite contradictory. During a transitional period, namely, as long as the workers’ movement is on the offensive, they tend to function like unions in the Western branch. But in the political system of the Russian zone, it is impossible to maintain this function; they l can only be transformed into instruments of the capitalist class. This is why nothing could be stabilized; either the political system would have to be transformed, or else the working class j struggle would continue its autonomous movement and l increasingly detach itself from the union which was becoming l a cog of the system. Implacable logic would lead Solidarity to become an instrument ever more removed from the rank- and-file and from working class interests. This evolution would lead it first to demand and later to try to promote, for its own purposes, the only political transformation—democrati. zation—which would allow it to perform fully the function which the development of capital assigns to it.
Work was resumed in both Gdansk and Szczecin on Monday, September 1, and the two MKS committees were converted into branches of Solidarity. But just as the Gdansk MKS had served as model, the Gdansk local became, first in practice, then legally, a sort of superior body. just as the Gdansk Presidium and the experts had formed a sort of central committee during the strike and later became the administration of the Gdansk union, so Walesa, the "natural leader," became simply 1 the leader. During the first half of September, it was quite easy to get acceptance of the Gdansk accords and of the transformation of MKS locals into branches of Solidarity. This was accepted in the Silesian mines on Wednesday, September 3. But there were already signs of discord. The aviation factory in Mielec resumed its strike on Thursday, September 4, and added twenty-three demands to the twenty-one points of Gdansk, including the firing of several upper echelon administrators; in the Tarnobrzeg sulphur mines, the working conditions took precedence over general conditions; elsewhere, workers demanded: the firing of a local Party chief; the cessation of the teamwork system currently practiced in the mines; the five-day week, etc.
Although these conflicts may appear to be the tail end of the strikes of July and August, they nonetheless anticipate what would take place later and, in particular, they indicate that the rank-and-file movement was guarding its autonomy. The apparent calm made the authorities hopeful that everything was being normalized in the newly established structures, each protagonist hoping to utilize circumstances in order to nibble away at the other’s power. In fact, almost the entire work force joined the ranks of Solidarity; this emptied the official unions of all their constituents, compelling union bureaucrats to find other jobs. By the end of September 1980, Solidarity could claim to represent 90% of the workers; it had its own national structure (a permanent committee of co-ordination) and regional branches which, in principle, were autonomous. On Tuesday, September 16, the Gdansk branch of Solidarity issued an edict warning against wildcat strikes. For their part, the reformist bureaucracy in the Party set about eliminating the obstacles to the implementation of the "Gdansk program;" Gierek was replaced by Kania; expulsions and power struggles ` would continue for a long time to come. The newly promoted officials endeavoured to reassure both the Russians and the West, so as to protect their posts and also to procure without delay the vital supplies and the credits needed to avoid strangulation of an economy heavily dependent on foreign exchange. In this area, underneath the propaganda and posturing, Kania found nothing but good will. For the time being, all were ready to come to Poland’s "aid" - simultaneously brandishing self-serving offers of assistance along with threats of force, as in every capitalist context - to "aid" Poland in surmounting this obstacle, especially now since the accords and the situation seemed to guarantee that things were heading toward "normalization." Gdansk fulfilled its promises: within a month, Solidarity had become an instrument "with which discussions are possible," as Kania declared and, as Walesa would say later, Kania is "a man with whom discussions are possible."
Autumn 1980 and Winter 1980-81 Working Class Guerrillas. The Rank-and-File Against the Gdansk Accords
Once the period of conflicts between the MKS and the government over the new union’s demands ended (the settlement adjusted the respective powers of the Party and the union), another type of conflict emerged. We already pointed out that this conflict was present in the September strikes, when the workers realized that the Gdansk accords were unsuited to their particular situation and that social peace was nothing to get excited about. The new Solidarity union, with one foot in the Church, the other in the reformist circles of the KOR, and its hand outstretched toward the reform wing of the Party, nevertheless had to retain ‘its links with the masses’ in order to preserve its credibility with the authorities. This was not an easy task; Western unions – the apparent model for Solidarity – had long been skilled at it, just as they had much experience in detailing dangerous rank-and-file movements. It did not take long for the Presidium, and Walesa in particular, to learn ‘how to end a strike.’ As Walesa himself said:
"I should remain where I am in order to fight, in order to put out useless fires like a fireman, in order to transform the movement into an organization."
Let us acknowledge him and his advisors (particularly the Church, about which Walesa said "its help was enormous") to be first-rate tacticians. The conflicts which broke out during the autumn and winter of 1980-81 were not, as was claimed, conflicts for the implementation of the Gdansk accords, but were opposed to the very contents of the accords. The new union was scarcely installed before it showed a tendency to assume its function under Eastern capitalism: the union itself, in agreement with the political authorities, had set limits to the direct action of the working-class movement. These were regularly over-stepped and this seriously called into question the union’s power and existence as legal intermediary with the government. Both Western and Eastern medias pretended to see conflict only between Solidarity and the dominant power, so this struggle went unnoticed for many months. Week after week, new struggles arose from rank-and-file initiatives in extremely diverse domains. These struggles shook up the union apparatus, which was itself torn by internal conflicts – between the ex-MKS committee from Gdansk and the Solidarity leadership, between the regional branches and this same leadership. To contain each of these new struggles, the union leadership and Party representatives from the government had to hold negotiations at the highest level in order to work out a settlement. Work was resumed in exchange for concessions that would not be too damaging to Party authority, union credibility or economic activity (all required for the continuity of capital). To the extent that the new union was unable to carry out the role expected of it vis-a-vis the working class, the threat of force became more explicit, orchestrated each time-as if by mutual agreement-by the medias of East and West. Capital, as much in the West as in the East, had a common interest in keeping the Polish workers’ movement contained within very precise boundaries, those imposed on workers everywhere. Some of the rank-and-file initiatives which appeared during the winter months provided dangerous examples for exploited people anywhere; and worse, they were an unacceptable incursion of rank-and-file power into the prerogatives of power itself. The duality of power which the leaders referred to on these occasions was not between the union and the Party, but between the rank-and-file workers and the leaders of both union and government. Above and beyond the war of words in this period, the economic interests of the West were just as important as the economic and strategic interests of Russia: in fact, these interests were so tightly intertwined that any political move by one side had to take into consideration the interests of the other. In addition, the clear determination of the rank-and-file made direct Russian intervention so risky that no strategic benefit could be expected from it. The situation could have been explosive for capital. Western "warnings" against direct Russian intervention should be interpreted as stemming from a clear understanding of its own interests rather than just another rehash of the Cold War. It is striking to see the same pattern repeated during these months: wildcat strikes, negotiations between Solidarity and the government, threats of intervention, threat of a limited general strike, concessions which ended the struggle. Then an eruption elsewhere, often over different issues but just as explosive, continued the sequence. This is a clear indication that in this period, the workers retained the initiative.
This was precisely what Russia did not want. The majority of the rank-and-file struggles grew out of specific local, apparently minor, problems but always ended with the same political confrontation at the summit. Would the Party (namely, capitalist power) or the rank-and-file have the last word? This was a much more fundamental problem than the sharing of power among already established groups (or aspirants to power like the Solidarity leadership). The constant Russian intervention ostensibly sought to preserve the "communist model" of Party domination, but it was not the ideological facade of this model which mattered. Behind the myth lay the brutal and uncompromising domination by the military, economic and political interests of Russian imperialism. This suggests that the political model could have been aItered as long as the strategic interests of Russia were preserved intact. The rank-and-file struggles frequently called into question the practical effects of this military domination. For the rank-and-file, the struggle was for "undivided democracy," for power over the practical details of the worker’s everyday life; at the summit, the response was rigid and undivided domination. At the intermediate levels the debate became ideological again and this served to conceal the real interests of the various protagonists. The Gdansk accords were particularly vague about wages. Threats of strikes, especially in the South, among construction workers, obliged Solidarity to organize a warning strike – lasting one hour, on Friday, October 3. The strike was unanimously observed; this can be interpreted in two ways: first, the rank-and-file followed the union’s call, thereby authorizing it to deal with the government; or, second, the "organized" strike cut short the wildcat actions but the strength of the limited strike showed that the workers were determined to go further if nothing were done. In late October and early November there were further wildcat actions over wage demands and this increased the polemic over the "leadership role of the Party" in relation to the Solidarity statutes.
The "recognition" of the Party had, in fact, been spelled out in the Gdansk accords; it had actually been imposed on the rank-and-file by the pro-Catholic Gdansk Presidium without being voted on by the MKS; it is implicitly contained in the statutes themselves since they refer to the "validity of the Constitution." The debate was more fundamental than an ideological debate or a disagreement over words: the working class rank-and-file, backed up by the most radical members of the union apparatus, had a conception of rank-and-file democracy; the union apparatus (not by chance the section linked to the Catholic Church and the reformist wing) had an elitist, "party oriented," bourgeois conception of democracy. Their differences took the form of a "great ideological debate" but it was much ado about nothing: the clause in question was inserted in an appendix to the statutes. Both sides claimed victory.
All this turmoil hid the increasing activity of the rank-and-file. On October 22, the Wroclaw railway workers began a hunger strike for their wages; in Gdansk on October 27, dockers refused to load potatoes for export and threatened to do the same for any commodity which local markets lacked. During the debates over the statutes, wages and food supplies were also discussed. Solidarity was divided on what action to undertake for the statutes, but strike threats deaIt with more down-to-earth subjects. While Walesa and Solidarity leaders celebrated the "victory" of the statutes at the Warsaw Opera on November 10, fifteen factories in Czestochowa went on strike, demanding the dismissal of the regional governor. One hundred hospital workers occupied a room in the Gdansk administration building and demanded their wages; thirty instructors occupied another room. As Walesa declared: "These are uncoordinated actions which weaken the movement’s cohesion."
Already by November 14, Walesa was again negotiating with Kania; the over-zealous governor had to resign, wage agreements were settled, the rationing of meat and butter was expected to improve the organization of the shortages, an economic reform of the shipyards would be undertaken with Solidarity’s cooperation.
Against this background of strikes for wages (in railways, textiles, sugar refineries, transportation), another serious conflict erupted. This one was over the problem of repression, which had also been left unresolved in the Gdansk accords. This conflict was set off by a rank-and-file initiative. A Justice Department employee leaked a document on the government’s plan for repression, and a section of Warsaw workers printed it for immediate distribution. The police seized everything and, on November 21, arrested both the printer Narozniak and the employee responsible for the leak, Sapielo. Strikes immediately broke out at the Ursus tractor factory in a Warsaw suburb and the Huta Warszawa steel works. The rank-and-file set forth their demands: reduce the "security" budget, investigate methods used by the repressive apparatus; punish those responsible for past repression, release the two arrested on , November 21; wage demands were also made. In a communique, Solidarity condemned the "irresponsible strikes" and declared that it would repudiate strikes which were not officially sanctioned. Walesa was brought to Warsaw by helicopter to put out the fire. Narozniak and Sapielo were released and in exchange Walesa got work resumed at Ursus but failed at the steelworks; here, it took Kuron until 3:30 a.m. to persuade the workers to return. This disclosure of state secrets demonstrated the inadequacy of Solidarity and unleashed a violent campaign, the purpose of which was to intimidate the workers. It was the familiar scenario of threats of Russian intervention along with Western declarations of warning. No government could tolerate such an act (these secrets are an essential element for maintaining people’s adherence to the system of exploitation itself`), no government could allow striking workers to prevent punishment of the "guilty." The Catholic Episcopate felt equally threatened by such a betrayal of a secret and straightforwardly declared on December 12:
"Every effort must be made to protect the institution of the State and the sovereignty of the fatherland."
Walesa took up the same refrain on December 16: Any action "that could raise the danger of a threat to the freedom and statehood of the fatherland must be avoided," and on the 17th, he really went overboard:
"The time has come for a concerted effort to surrender the strike weapon and negotiate a return to economic security and social peace . . .Society needs order at this time.”
The dedication of the memorial to the Gdansk martyrs of 1970-71 on December 16 was an appropriate symbol of the significance of the "victory" that the Gdansk accords represented. It was a touching and ominous demonstration of national unity: oppressors and workers, gunmen and their prey, executioners and widows of victims, all carefully surrounded by the new police (the security forces from the shipyard union), all intoning the national anthem and all blessed by the Church, by Solidarity and by the Party. A workers’ defeat was enacted here. Whenever capital is threatened by both the class struggle and its own problems it turns to the old, familiar ideology: national unity for the salvation of the endangered fatherland.
The "organized" tears of emotion were not dry before another conflict erupted, again relating to the Gdansk accords. This one was ever the five-day work week. Solidarity made a big fuss about the "non-application of the Gdansk accords" but here also, the contents of the accords were at fault. Kisiel, head of the Planning Commission, was merely applying the conditions of the Gdansk accords when he said on December 19 that, in 1981, only one-half of the Saturdays would be free days, and that the five-day week would be inaugurated only gradually and in relation to the rise in productivity. In response to Point 21 of the Gdansk workers’ demands, the accords specified:
"The principle that Saturday should be a free day should be put into effect, or another method of providing free time should be devised. This should be worked out by December 31, 1980. The measures should include the increase in the number of free Saturdays from the start of 1981."
Each side had its own interpretation of these statements. The rank-and-file wanted everything, immediately. In order to restrain the direct action movement which sprang up everywhere (workers simply did not report to work on Saturdays), Solidarity organized a diversionary action to bring the struggle back under its control: another one-hour warning strike and later the threat of a general strike. The agitation ever free Saturdays continued throughout January and ended with a compromise on January 30: three out of four Saturdays would be free and the work week was set at 41 1/4 hours. In these discussions with the government, Solidarity obtained recognition of its press and access to radio and TV. But the real compromise lay elsewhere. While Walesa was away paying homage to the Pope in midJanuary, there were further wildcat actions which affected the system much mere fundamentally than the issue of time off and media access. In exchange for Solidarity’s increased stabilization, the union was now obliged to do its "job"not only on the Jelenia Gora and Bielsko-Biala workers, but also on the Rzeszow peasants; in both cases it was the vanguard of capitalist repression.
The wildcat actions which arose in many parts of Poland went well beyond the Gdansk accords and expressed a desire for a rank-and-file democracy which would not depend even on Solidarity’s top officials. They even affected Party leaders; strikes or threats of strikes demanded the dismissal of political leaders or enterprise managers. At Jelenia Gora the demand was to fire fifteen of them; on January 10, similar demands were made in at least ten regions of Poland. On January 27, in the vicinity of Bielsko-Biala, more than one hundred factories were occupied – again opposing local authorities. A regional strike committee was set up at Jelenia Gora. On January 29, the government proclaimed that it was compelled to maintain "law, order and discipline . . . Anarchy and chaos are entering in the life of the country, endangering the nation and its citizens." But in spite of the efforts of the government and the union, strikes continued. On January 28, Solidarity’s National Coordinating Committee asked all its regional branches to avoid any strike activity from that day until further notice. Lech Walesa issued a clear appeal to halt wildcat strikes:
"We have to end all strikes so that the government can say that Solidarity has the situation under control . . . We all have to concentrate on r-ankand-file problems. There is fire in the country."
By this time, it was clear that Solidarity had completely lost control of the situation; when a union official was asked how many of the strikes were authorized, he answered, "Not a single one." The Jelenia Gora strike committee called for a general strike in three regions to begin on January 30; the general strike in Bielsko-Biala continued and the strike committee refused to send a delegate to Warsaw to negotiate; . . . Let the negotiators come to Bielsko-Biala. Walesa stated at this time that
"The situation is dangerous (for whom?). We need national unity. To achieve it, we, government and workers (that is, the union), ought to seek a common path: we should unite in the country’s interest. We extend our hand to the government."
The compromise over free Saturdays was agreed upon at this point. Solidarity emissaries set out once again to put out the fires. They failed in Bielsko-Biala, despite Walesa’s fancy schemes; a high Church dignitary finally succeeded in getting work resumed on Saturday, February 7, following the dismissal of only four local directors. In Jelenia Gora, the strike centered on the conversion of an Interior Ministry’s health facility into a public hospital; the government finally gave in on February 10.
The Countryside in Motion: Agitation of Another Class, the Peasantry
An equally serious crisis developed in the countryside during the same period. This one affected another class, the peasantry. In 1956, the peasants were rewarded by a return to private property and, during the upheavals of 1970 and 1976, they made no specific demands. In fact, both times the government was able to maintain their neutrality in its class struggle against the workers by granting a few concessions. This time the clash with the government was deep enough for the peasants to take part in the conflict, but it was the basic economic situation that led the peasants to fight as they did. Poland’s rapid industrialization toward a modern capitalism made the government, indeed, the entire society, press for consolidation and for techniques of profitable production in agriculture. The rise of an autonomous workers’ movement undoubtedly acted as catalyst for peasant discontent and the model of union organization which grew out of it appealed to the peasants. The Church played a coordinating role while furthering its own interests as landowner. But it was the weakness of the central authority that opened the dikes to other waves of demands.
The name Rural Solidarity and the support of its "sister" organization, given directly by workers in some regions (which was facilitated by the existence of large numbers of worker-peasants) should not give rise to illusions: the peasants pursued their own class struggle and their own specific objectives; unlike the workers, they clearly confronted the power of the ruling capitalist class, but their interests nevertheless diverged from those of their temporary allies in this struggle against a common enemy. It all began on January 2 as a wildcat action in Rzeszow, in south eastern Poland, where six hundred peasants and workers occupied the former union headquarters and demanded that it be turned over to them for their organization. In the same region, a newly created "Federation of Workers and Peasants of the Bieszczady Mountains" demanded the return to public access of the game reserve which had been confiscated by Gierek for exclusive use by Party dignitaries. On Saturday, January 10, again in Rzeszow, a national peasant strike committee was formed which called for, among its eleven demands, local self-government, freedom to sell the land and access to modern agricultural techniques. The growing movement called for a peasant union, “Rural Solidarity," to which Party leaders were, at that time, resolutely opposed. Things remained dormant until the end of January. Walesa agreed to serve as mediator with the peasants in order to end the wildcat action. Here, too, the Church would play a major role.
The activities of the peasants were just as troublesome to the state capitalist system as the workers’ activities. An entire movement seemed to come to life in the defense of the right to private property and in claims on state property, reminiscent of old "Land to the Peasants" slogans of the 1789 French bourgeois revolution and the 1917 Russian revolution. In spite of collective ownership of the land, this movement also exists in Russia. Possibly more than the workers’ movement, the peasant movement directly threatens the basic foundation of ruling class power: the privileged utilization of the means of production. It is more difficult to control and make a collaborator out of a peasant union which seeks to appropriate a means of production, the land, than it is to control a workers’ union. But another consideration was that the peasants fed Poland. In the current situation, a head-on collision with them would mean empty shelves in the stores and would leave the authorities facing the already unruly workers.
The immediate problem was a more serious political one. The capitalist class can maintain its domination only by dividing the various classes and controlling them separately by means of settlements appropriate to their divergent interests. In periods of crisis, rulers can cope with the turbulence of one class only if the others remain quiet. This is what happened earlier in Poland. As long as the peasants and those who can be considered the middle class stayed inactive, the working class offensive could be more or less contained. The entry of the peasants into this struggle radically changed the political situation. The peasants make up more than a third of the population and have numerous links with other social classes and groups. Faced with a potential coalition between peasants and workers, the capitalist class had to modify its political approach. It is ironic that, unable to curtail the peasant movement at its origins, the government sent Walesa, thus sanctioning the momentary alliance and further aggravating the political crisis. And at this point the crisis became yet more acute: the universities demanded their autonomy, and the Party itself was shaken by reformist currents within its ranks. The crisis was threatening to become total and, aside from force, the system had only one recourse left: the army.
Jaruzelski: Another Attempt at Reform
It is instructive to quote Walesa’s comments on General Jaruzelski, Minister of Defense who became head of the government on February 9, 1981:
"Poland needs a strong government, a government capable of governing and Jaruzelski can do it. Because he is a soldier, a general, therefore used to giving orders and to imposing discipline on others and on himself. As a soldier, he also should have the clean hands which are necessary to clear the country out of bastards with dirty hands. We must let him work."
Walesa’s naivete and illusions are astonishing, or perhaps it is his political skill. This statement clearly shows what was expected from Jaruzelski’s investiture at this precise moment; what Walesa said is exactly what the rulers had hoped "the man in the street" would feel and say. The General was the New Man, an almost providential savior. It might be tempting to conclude that, as in so many other places, the army became the arbiter in a situation where no other structure of domination retained any real hold over the subordinate classes. But Poland was not Bolivia or South Korea. In the Russian bloc, appointing a general to be Prime Minister is quite exceptional. Jaruzelski had always been a distinguished member of the capitalist class. Prom a strictly capitalist viewpoint, Walesa’s words on Jaruzelski indicate that the reputation of the army was still intact (something that could not be said for the other sectors of the capitalist class); this situation significantly enhanced the authority of the army within the capitalist class itself. In fact, the General was considered to have remained somewhat aloof from political circles and to have opposed those who advocated violence to quell the movement; he was undoubtedly a realist in whom the Russians had confidence. The General proposed a three-month truce in order to institute economic measures; he created a permanent committee of coordination with the unions and appointed another "liberal" Party member, Rakowski, to this committee.
This was nothing less than an attempt to divorce the workers’ movement from the peasant’s movement. Solidarity responded favorably to the truce proposal, provided that all the unresolved problems would be discussed, especially those dealing with official recognition of Solidarity (laws concerning legal unions) and access to instruments of power (laws concerning censorship). This was the beginning of generalized haggling; Modzelewski, a KOR member who was given access to the columns of Warsaw’s official daily newspaper, offered the following: "Implementation of the Gdansk accords has been largely inadequate. The principles formulated by the Prime Minister as well as the composition of his government create a real chance to get out of the dangerous situation of recent weeks.. . The only role to which Solidarity aspires is to be a recognized and respected social partner."
In actual fact, Jaruzelski was hardly enthroned before agreements were reached in many sectors. Settlement with the students was reached on February 20: they would have access to faculty committees; admission requirements would be revised; course programs modified; and the independent union recognized. Agreement on the five-day work week was published on the same day and provided a wide choice between different formulas. Solidarity and the Minister of Commerce reached an agreement on meat and sugar rationing. The government was negotiating at the local level with Rural Solidarity’s strike committee in both Rzeszow and Ustrzyki DoIne; legislation would recognize the right of individual farmers to ownership of their land. At the same time, there was an agreement with France for cooperation in improving agricultural techniques on the small family farm. The Rzeszow local of Solidarity was granted most of the belongings of the former official union. This period of relative calm coincided with the Twenty-second Congress of the Russian Communist Party which opened in Moscow at the end of February and also with the acrimonious discussions in Paris between all Poland’s Western partners over revising the conditions for economic and financial exchange. It was equally important to each branch of capital that the social peace provide guarantees that the new system of social relations would bring the most effective domination of the exploited and improve the productivity of labor in present-day conditions of industrial development.
The Counter-Threat of Bydgoszcz
Once again, the attempt to stop the rank-and-file movements backfired. Beginning in March 1981, autonomous actions began to spread in the most diverse domains. In Majdow, on March 14, peasants demanded – and obtained – the construction of a school. On the same day in Radom, two hundred enterprise delegates presented twenty demands including the punishment of those responsible for the 1976 repression, and the social use of militia buildings. These delegates threatened a general strike if negotiations did not begin immediately. Walesa arrived in Radom on March 16:
"We must put a stop to this. We must not annihilate ourselves. We have got a reasonable government. We cannot go on striking. I think this government will sit down at the table and cooperate with us . . . The robbers have robbed, it’s finished. Now, it is up to us to work since we want to live better and this depends on us."
With the assistance of the parish priest, the defense lawyer for the 1976 victims and Kuron, the strike was avoided. "What happened at Radom is a formula," Walesa declared.
"Dates had been set for a two-hour warning strike, to be followed by a general strike. I went there and I convinced the people they had to abandon this program since negotiations with the authorities were scheduled to begin the next day. . . The past weighs heavy and this tendency to want to obtain everything right away always exists in society. But what we have succeeded in obtaining is already good. Today, we have to say ‘enough.’ We have to learn to delegate the decisions.”
These are ominous words in the light of future developments.
While several hundred peasants occupied the offices of the official peasant party in order to gain recognition of the peasant union, a local Solidarity delegation tried unsuccessfully for three days to intervene on their behalf at police headquarters and they refused to leave the premises. For the first time since July 1980, the militia intervened directly and seriously wounded several delegates. This took place on March 19, in Bydgoszcz, in the very center of Poland.
It is an irony of history that Walesa now had to revive the anti-repression movement which he had defused in Radom a few days earlier – not only because Solidarity delegates had been direct victims but because all Polish workers were ready to rise up over what they rightly considered a return to the oppressive system with which they were fed up. For them, the attack was proof that they had not gained much since July 1980, despite Walesa’s reassuring declarations. Once more Solidarity had to resort to its customary diversionary action. But this time the entire rank-and-file was preparing for a serious conflict. Rank-and-file organizations gathered in factories and planned their strategy. First on their list of demands was the firing of those responsible for the March 19 attacks; they also called for recognition of Rural Solidarity and guarantees against repression of all sorts. The collaboration between workers and peasants which Jaruzelski’s nomination was supposed to have cut short thus grew more intense; a strike lasting two hours took place on March 27 and, since it looked like the government was not inclined to yield, the workers proceeded feverishly with plans for a general strike on March 31; this one would have no time limit.
A Critical Date for Normalization: March 30, 1981 Political and Union Leaders versus the Rank-and-File
"For years I’ve waited for that moment, and now they ruined everything."
With these bitter words, a Polish worker greeted Walesa’s announcement that, after seven hours of negotiation with the government, the strike was called off and an agreement was signed without even consulting the union’s National Committee. "Violating all democratic procedures and facing inevitable recrimination, they (Walesa and a few experts) signed an agreement which contained only promises and then ran to the TV to call off the strike without asking anyone’s advice." This was the Walesa Edict as described by a reporter in Le Monde. Walesa tried to justify this edict by claiming that "70% of the demands were granted" (in fact, the agricultural union was recognized and a few over-zealous officials were transferred), but two victims of Bydgoszcz gave voice to the general dismay when they condemned Walesa’s betrayal of all their ideals: "Walesa has bungled. We can compromise on supplies of onions, but not over spilt blood."
At this point it became obvious to all workers that the union fit the description made by Dymarski, president of the Gdansk local;
"Solidarity has become a different union from the one we joined in September. Anti-democratic practices which are encouraged by Walesa’s paranoid behavior are beginning to pervade the unions."
The capitalist class, on the other hand, was euphoric. Rakowski praised the positive role of the experts who "gave their utmost to find compromise solutions." Two subordinate police officers from Bydgoszcz were transferred in early April. Finally, on May 11, Rural Solidarity was registered and this event was followed by a large demonstration in which the Church’s control was so obvious that the capitalist class must have been reassured that the Church would serve as the best guarantee against the risks of such a union. Workers undoubtedly viewed March 30 as the definitive rupture between the rank-and-file and the entire bureaucracy of Solidarity; this rupture would have serious consequences in the period which followed.
For all practical purposes, none of the rank-and-file problems which had prompted wildcat actions during recent months had been resolved. Solidarity’s role at the end of these conflicts gave it respectability in the eyes of the Party; the regimentation of union locals was the counterpart to daily participation in making economic and political decisions. The Party congress in July and Solidarity’s congress in August were not the only stimuli for the great reformist upsurge in both organizations which were now attempting to accommodate each other, one purging on its right, the other on its left. Party "liberalization" apparently went in the direction desired by the rank-and-file; but the Party remained the Party and the union tried to become the union. The significant events of the summer of 1981, one year after the great anticipation of workers’ democracy, were not so much the publicized decisions on various "liberties," but rather, the attempts to set up economic reforms at the enterprise level. The few documents available show that Solidarity was already functioning as a partner in efficient management. Polish workers were increasingly aware that the class struggle is unending and each struggle is just one more stage as long as capital endures.
The Rank-and-File Movement, An Obstacle to Solidarity’s Integration
The events of March 30, 1981, led the leaders to conclude that capital was now in a position to work out its problems without considering rank-and-file opinion and without provoking widespread, spontaneous responses. The old class organs, Party, Church, army, and the economic establishment had reason to believe that the new arrival in their midst, Solidarity, was able to control the workers and make them accept the solutions of capital. None of them had reason to believe that the workers could possibly proceed to another stage of organization.
There were many new faces at the Party congress in mid-July 1981, and a new Central Committee as well as a new Politburo were elected. But the Party remained the Party, weak in numbers (three million members compared to the Church’s faithful millions or to Solidarity’s ten million members) but powerful because of the backing (armies and police, always and everywhere ready to restore and maintain capitalist order) of Russian and Western capitalism. The Party was weak not so much because of its numbers but because the workers, conscious of their own power, were no longer afraid of it. Could Solidarity become the needed and official link in restoring the "normal" functioning of capital, namely, could it manage the workers and impose decisions on them?
The Solidarity congress opened with two sessions: September 5-11, and September 26 – October 16, 1981. Between the two sessions, Walesa, Kuron and two other leaders from Solidarity’s national office reached an agreement on selfmanagement with the Parliamentary legislative committee; this agreement conflicted with a resolution passed unanimously at the congress a few days earlier. "We are heading for a tough fight and we need some generals," Walesa stated in order to justify himself, and Kuron added;
"Solidarity must continue to work for an institutionalized relation between the governors and the governed."
Just as the cancellation of the March 31 strike had shown that the union leadership could openly act against the rank-and-file, the September 26 compromise on self-management showed that a few leaders could even ignore the wishes of their organization. The union functioned like the Party and like every other hierarchical capitalist apparatus; this is the proper context for Walesa’s remark. From this point on, neither debates at the congress nor election proceedings would have much significance. The only thing that mattered was increased participation in capitalist power. One militant, Gwiazda, commented,
"in the last six months, union representatives no longer speak the members’ language but the governments That language is not understood."
Twice in six months the Solidarity leadership exhibited in practice, and on a national scale-namely, at a "political" level – its scorn for the rank-and-file: first, in March, when the general strike was called off and then, in August, with the self-management compromise. Both times, the attitude of the Solidarity leadership revealed a profound breach not only between the top and bottom but at the very heart of the organization. The problem is not merely to ascertain that workers’ democracy had been repudiated – Walesa and his circle knew that better than anyone-the problem is to understand what caused the leaders to act as they did, and, in spite of their grand words, to develop tendencies which had already been visible in the August 1980 Gdansk discussions.
In the October 3, 1981 Le Monde, Bernard Guetta reported on the Solidarity congress debates, and commented:
"The union cadres are now formed and have begun to prowl around the political machinery; from now on, they will more readily delegate their power."
Like every union in a capitalist system, Solidarity could have a legal existence only by functioning as mediator; in order to carry out this function, given the contradictions and factional struggles within the governing bodies, it had to propose political solutions. At the end of August 1981, Kuron explained this to striking printers who opposed calling off their strike:
"The union now has other things to do besides firing directors and political functionaries . . .There are more important problems for all of Poland."
For him, the solution was essentially political; a government of national unity was needed to carry it out. Walesa and many other experts had the same approach. But in order to perform its function effectively, a union cannot cut itself off from "its" rank-and-file; it should be the mouthpiece of those who support it and should articulate at least some of their grievances. From the beginning, Solidarity was plagued by this contradiction. At this time, its legal existence depended entirely on the strength of its rank-and-file support and this made it difficult to maintain the fundamental dualism while trying to retain its recognition by the capitalist rulers. Thus in one organization, two tendencies existed in a dialectical relationship which was accentuated by the ambiguity of the struggles--tendencies toward integration among the leaders and toward autonomy among the rank-and-file.
At the congress, Gwiazda warned the delegates: "Everyone wants to change the world, but no one knows how to help the workers in their daily struggle." Marian Jurczyk expressed it even better: "Every union militant must preserve his links with the workers." In a period of economic upswing, this dialectical relationship can be contained fairly well within the framework of the organization, since capital can concede some things to the constant pressure of the rank-and-file movement. The union justifies its efficiency, its usefulness, by pointing to protracted worker actions. But in a period of crisis, a rift appears because capital needs everything for its recovery and has nothing to give; then the union’s fundamental role as capital’s cop becomes obvious. Walesa himself said he was "the flying fireman" and in his final speech on the night of December 12-13, 1981, when he already knew that the army was approaching, he described his function:
"The economic crisis would have taken place in any case .... The crisis would have been a lot worse and the beatings even more numerous if Solidarity hadn’t existed. We negotiated with the authorities so that no one would be laid off and no one would shoot. The crisis would have been a lot worse without us. People would have looted the stores, a lot of things would have been destroyed. The authorities knew this and even authorized our formation... since they realized that Solidarity would play a role of shock-absorber, reasonable and serious, that it would not liquidate the Party. . ."
During the last six months of 1981, the growing rift between the leadership and the rank-and-file polarized Solidarity. One side increasingly looked toward support from the capitalist government, provided that the union’s position would be assured; the other side tried to express the aspirations of the rank-and-file movement, some, like Gwiazda, favoring strict worker control over decisions, others, like the regional leaders from Lodz and Lublin, going further with their proposals for active strikes and for control of the economy by means of horizontal links. Failure to understand this situation led to the misconception, reinforced by the medias on both sides of the Iron Curtain, that whatever happened in Poland was initiated by Solidarity. To understand subsequent events, two distinct responses should not be confused: while the leadership increasingly elaborated political solutions in a sort of anticipated retreat, the rank-and-file increasingly used the organization for its own ends. The union apparatus was no threat to capitalist domination (as Walesa made clear when expressing his determination not to "liquidate the Party"); the threat came from the rank-and-file using the apparatus for its own ends. At the end of 1981, 16,000 of the 19,600 workers at the Katowice steelworks belonged to Solidarity; Party membership fell from four thousand to twenty in December 1981 and it was only natural that the Party should give up its premises when they were "requisitioned" by the rank-and-file organization. When Gwiazda said that the language of Solidarity was not understood, he was obviously referring to the language of the leaders. Other leaders, however, recognized it as their own language, just as workers saw that it wasn’t theirs.
During the summer and fall of 1981, a new wave of strikes broke out over highly diverse issues but largely over the very material issue of food supplies. On November 18, 1981, after a discussion between Party personalities and their English counterparts, the latter reported an almost total disappearance of Party and union authority (Solidarity’s authority, too, one might add); the basic characteristic of the situation was rankand-file determination to discuss openly whatever might affect workers. From what we know about these struggles, their scope was so vast that they deserve to be classified as expressions of the workers’ own interests.
The question of self-management also exposed the rift between the leadership and the rank-and-file. The little that is known about what went on inside the enterprises suggests that, in the wake of the apparent victory of the Gdansk accords, there was strong rank-and-file impetus toward decision making as well as monitoring. This "wildcat" movement for rank-and-file control more or less coincided with the rise within Solidarity (but nevertheless somewhat on its fringes since the chief authorities did not "recognize" it for some time) of a "self-management" faction which called itself "the network" and which we will mention later. This faction wanted to set up a framework for self-management at the enterprise level in which the local union and management would work together, with a certain measure of rank-and-file control, in order to achieve a "smooth functioning" enterprise. This was an early attempt to channel the rank-and-file movement, but it contained two sources of conflict: with the administrators of capital, since the program advocated the complete autonomy of the enterprise from centralized decision-making; with the rank-and-file who might not conceive of this neo-management as sel-fmanagement. We know very little about the second source of conflict, but about the first, we know that Solidarity included self-management in its platform and that it participated in high-level discussions with the government when legislation on self-management was being considered by Parliament. In a reverse dialectic, these many debates on self-management at various levels undoubtedly led many workers not only to theorize about, but also to extend, their practice, taking literally whatever could be said on the subject. The movement was clearly extensive enough to require co-optive legislation, which incorporated the compromise mentioned earlier between Walesa and the deputies. Below, we will give a Lodz unionist’s account of the potential links among the self-organized within the enterprises and neighborhoods. From the little we know about activity elsewhere, we can see that workers were not revolving around principles but around actions, they were putting into practice what they understood as workers’ control. It may seem purely symbolic that the Party-imposed managers at the national airlines, LOT, and at the Katowice steelworks were ousted and others elected in their place, but it shows how things had changed within the enterprises. Gdansk and Gdynia dockers exercised control over the export of foodstuffs. At Radom, as a result of constant strikes, the workers demanded the punishment of those responsible for the 1976 massacres; in Olsztyn, some print shop workers got a lie on television retracted by means of a strike; on September 9, 1981, 150 prisoners escaped from the Bydgoszcz jail, assisted by local inhabitants; at the Tarnobrzeg sulphur mine there was a shut-down strike with occupation in order to get improved working conditions. At the beginning of October 1981, more than 250,000 workers were 0n strike at Zielona Gora, Tarnobrzeg and Zyrardow (textile mills). On October 20, 1981, several thousand workers attacked a Katowice police station following the arrest of some militants; almost everywhere, there was threat of other conflicts: at Wroclaw, at Sandomierz, etc. Walesa no longer knew what to do to restrain the movement.
At the end of July 1981, there was a new form of protest: street demonstrations which, until then, Solidarity had always avoided because they could take on an openly political character (not because Solidarity wanted to avoid provocations, as the leaders claimed). The union thought it was strong enough to channel this movement. But in August the movement spread to all parts of Poland and could not easily be restrained. The demonstration in Warsaw nearly paralyzed the city for several days. At the end of October, Solidarity again tried to use a one-hour general strike to stop the movement and Walesa said that he "hoped that this would be the last one." It was obvious that Solidarity could not "command obedience" and that something else would have to be found in order to dominate the workers.
A Race Between Two Bureaucracies
Like every capitalist class, the Polish rulers counted on the exhaustion, the deterioration of the autonomous rank-and-file movement. But in spite of the government’s co-opting maneuvers, promises and manipulation of resources, the movement not only persisted but continued to develop while the existing bureaucracies defaulted on providing basic necessities. The response of the capitalist class was a function of its national interests and of its links with international capital. It was no coincidence that on October 18, just after Solidarity’s congress, General Jaruzelski replaced Kania as Party chief and thus occupied every ruling office in Poland – including the office of head of the repressive apparatus. The wave of strikes had left powerless not only the capitalist class but also Solidarity (in which some Party leaders had placed their hopes). Fluctuations between policies of force and policies of reform paralleled Solidarity’s fluctuations between peacefully sharing capitalist power (with repressive manipulation of the rank-and-file movement) and confronting the established clique in order to become capital’s manager by making use of the radicalism of this same rank-and-file movement (to more effectively repress it later). At the beginning of December 1981, there really existed only two of the former institutions of the Polish state; the army and the Church. Both retained some authority and their reputations were more or less intact since (with rare exceptions for the Church), they had not intervened in recent events.
The role of institutions such as the army and the Church was to guarantee the stability of Polish capitalism for the benefit of this capitalism itself, for the capitalist class and for the benefit of capital in its entirety (Western and Eastern branches). But these institutions also acted in their own interests; these interests were not, however, guaranteed within the system except when they coincided with the general interests of capital and with the specific interests of the various capitalist cliques. To the extent that the two imperialisms peaceably divide up the world, these institutions function to defend common interests. We can note some privileged links with one of the imperialisms: the Polish army and the entire police apparatus may seem to be an integral part of the repressive system dominated by Russian capitalism; the Church might seem to be an integral part (at least in theory) of another capitalism, that of the Western branch of capital.
Admittedly, compared to its "big Russian brother," Poland appears to be relatively powerless. But in a state which ranks eleventh among world powers, the development of Polish capital within a national framework tended to promote an independent defense of specific interests which did not necessarily coincide with the defense of the interests of the other imperialists, even of the dominant imperialism. (The same thing can be observed in the countries of Western Europe in relation to the USA.) It was not accidental that the institutions of control and co-optation had as common denominator the vehement affirmation of Polish nationalism, namely support for a capitalism within a state framework. Each faction of the capitalist class may express preferences for one imperialism or the other and preferences for one or another apparatus for dominating the workers. In its role as capital’s manager, Solidarity reflected this national dichotomy. One faction of the leadership gravitated toward the Church and its links with the West, another faction was Party-oriented and inclined to come to an agreement with a reformed Party still linked to the USSR. This dual approach to serving the "national interest" can be seen in Solidarity’s sending a delegate to Washington to negotiate an extension in Poland’s debt repayment while simultaneously discussing sending a delegate to Moscow in order to work out a political formula appropriate to Polish capital.
Solidarity’s orientation toward national and international political spheres grew more explicit as its bonds with the rankand-file decreased. The more it distanced itself from the workers, the more it tended to become the manager of national capital, and the more it sought to recover its lost power by making . explicitly political demands and by supporting capitalist interests different from those of rival governing cliques. Capitals policies are essentially pragmatic; one method’s success-namely, its efficacy in protecting capital’s interests – temporarily eliminates all others. Failure opens the door to another method, even one that is contrary to the one previously followed. There is no doubt that both approaches to the Polish crisis, the reformist and the repressive, were studied and prepared simultaneously. At the Party congress in July 1981, Rakowski stated that a new positive formula for a front of – national understanding had to be found,
"This front should grow into a rational alliance which embraces the various social groupings and movements."
At the end of October, Jaruzelski tried to put this recommendation into practice by holding talks with Walesa and the Church’s Polish primate, Glemp, in order to try to define the foundations of a new structure for capitalist power. Jaruzelski’s Machiavellianism has been widely censured; he is accused of using his procrastination skills and of dissimulating during discussions held until the very last minute, all the while secretly preparing military intervention. A spokesman from WRON, the Military Council for National Salvation, stated on February 4, 1982:
"What happened on the night of the 12th and 13th was a well-planned and well-conceived military attack."
But other members of the ruling circle spoke openly of "a political defeat." On December 1, Jaruzelski asserted,
"The process of decomposition has to end, or it will lead to confrontation, to a sort of state of war."
From the standpoint of a capitalist ruler, he was right; below, we will examine the economic collapse and the near-disappearance of the state. In 1968, in France, DeGaulle did not wait eighteen months before preparing the "military" alternative for saving capital, should it be needed. The single problem, "how to end the strikes and make the economy function" appears constantly, as a leitmotif. Jaruzelski stated on December 25, "Until the last minute we remained hopeful that emergency measures would not be necessary.” It is very likely that he continued to look for a less risky alternative. Even if the army and police are always available to carry out their tasks, a commander-in-chief, promoted to the rank of politician, cannot disregard political solutions; if a political decision is possible in a situation which involves all participants in the production process, it should be taken. The important question is to know why the political negotiations failed and why this failure made the capitalist class act as it did in Poland.
The proposals from both the government and the union all seemed to run into what the media called the "incomprehension" either of the union or of the Party. But this is not why they were unsuccessful. The negotiations failed because the rank-and-file movement was still intact and because it continually exposed Solidarity’s inability to assure the support and allegience of its "troops," the fundamental condition for its admission into an alliance of power. The "front of national understanding" foundered, not because Solidarity risked losing its virtue (which, in any case, it no longer had), but because it was clear by this time that Solidarity had lost its power and thus was of no further use to the capitalist rulers. In fact, Solidarity’s existence had become a hindrance since it tended to look elsewhere for power and this "elsewhere" went out of bounds and landed in competition between imperialisms; this, in the Polish context, warranted an immediate death sentence. In mid-November, there were more than 400,000 strikers – wildcat strikers – throughout Poland; the strikes ranged from an unlimited one by 1700 Krosno refinery workers demanding direct self-management, to a strike by commercial employees who were fed up with being accused of fostering shortages. On November 9, Newsweek observed, "The biggest obstacle to improving the country’s prospects is now the union’s own rebellious members." When Walesa was in France, he held a secret interview in Roissy with a group of important American businessmen who asked him, among other things, "If your government listened to you, would you be able to control the protest movement?" This was on October 18, 1981. We do not know Walesa’s response, but the question sounds like a condemnation by capital’s representatives.
Solidarity leaders multiplied their efforts to show their good will. After appealing to the miners to give up their free Saturdays, they proposed the "active strike" as "a new method of struggle," and then the National Committee considered disciplinary measures "against wildcat strikes which threaten to destroy the union." Walesa added:
"Strikes should be used in a thoughtful and planned manner, otherwise the name Solidarity becomes an empty slogan."
There is no better way of saying that the union is nothing without the "discipline" of its members, namely, the discipline of capital over its members. This is the point at which Jaruzelski must have definitively chosen another approach for imposing this discipline. On November 27, he introduced in Parliament legislation to prohibit strikes. By this time, Solidarity’s staff was in general disorder. The often contradictory proposals for dealing with the situation can briefly be summarized: How to recover the lost power. There was great temptation to try to co-opt the vigor of the autonomous movement by means of demagogic radicalism in the hope of restoring the situation of August 1980. Solidarity’s congress in September-October had already distinguished itself along these lines. This demagogy could follow either an economic or a political path. The economic path meant restoring power to the rank-and-file and fragmenting the union’s power even more. This is why restrictions to preserve the organization’s power were attached to every proposal: "We ought to think not as unionists, but as Poles." Archbishop Glemp expressed
it as: "Let’s get to work! We should do everything for the well being of the Fatherland. Only at that moment will God intervene and produce a miracle."
Walesa urged the miners: go to work and you will see. Jaworski continued the same theme on November 13:
"Today, the time for work has come and even if we should organize new strikes, they will be active ones so work doesn’t stop. We are going to take the enterprises under our authority and in this way save the Fatherland and safeguard the existence of our fellow citizens."
Nevertheless, the political path increasingly took precedence over the economic path in Solidarity’s demands. This was a response to the government’s proposals, but this was also a clear demand for a share of capital’s power within a revamped political system. While preparations were being made for the restoration of the capitalist class, Solidarity’s National Committee had nothing other to propose than setting up an alternative political power: a "technocratic" interim government, a commission for the national economy, and the organization of a referendum to decide on free elections.
To set oneself up as a direct political competitor of the ruling capitalist class is to ask for trouble, especially in the Polish context. The ruling clique’s response was all the more violent because the political call for Western-type democracy was not only incompatible with the structures imposed by the dominant Russian imperialism, but also because it inserted itself in the inter-imperialist rivalry. With the exception of Hungarian unions, all Eastern bloc countries avoided any contact with Solidarity. Due to the force of circumstances, Solidarity’s overtures to the West seemed to confirm it as an agent of pro-Western interests within Polish capital. From among the diverse contacts with the West (an American bishop saying the opening mass at a Solidarity congress, Walesa’s travels in Western Europe, contacts with various unions, etc.), the medias chose the spectacular ones which were suitable to the contest between propagandas. These spectacular contacts concealed more concrete links such as those established with banks, particularly German ones. But although Solidarity was in pursuit of power, it did not hold any real power. Competition with the other existing institutions of Polish capital centered around a single question (which is the only real problem for every capitalism): Who could, at present, control the class struggle? At the end of 1981, it was very clear that the Party could not do it; hence, the repressive apparatus came into renewed prominence and became the mouthpiece of the totality of capital’s interests, in a sort of merger with what remained of the Party. Solidarity’s weakness can be seen in the fact that it had to share the stage with a third protagonist, the Church. The relationship of forces between these "institutions" can be summarized with a comparison: In August 1980, it was the government ministers who journeyed to Gdansk in order to suppress the workers’ movement; in November 1981, it was Walesa and Glemp who were in Warsaw seeking interviews with the single representative of the entire capitalist class. The situation was inverted: Solidarity no longer had any social force behind it. Summarizing the situation in Poland in November 1981, we see that:
- The class struggle was blocking all attempts to co-opt the autonomous rank-and-file movement.
- Both the Party and the old union had lost all their authority.
- Fierce factional struggles were shaking up the Party, and the struggles were made more acute by the prospect of reforms and of more direct management procedures which would eliminate a fair number of Party members from the avenues of power; if some of them feared for their skins, others foresaw prospects for careers in a renovated state.
- The new union, Solidarity, had lost practically all its authority with the workers whenever it tried to fulfil the function for which it existed. In attempting to create conditions favorable to the exercise of this function, the leaders proposed political changes. This led to divisions within the union, cut it off yet more from the rank-and-file, and determined the terms of the conflict against and within the Party.
- The chaos of the economy became more pronounced as a result of accumulated causes and effects, of economic, social and political interactions which strengthened the structures of the rank-and-file movement but at the same time exacerbated the radicalisms, both reactionary and reformist.
- Capitalists in East and West had cause for concern in three areas: 1) Economic: the loans had not been paid back; deliveries of raw materials were considerably reduced; and in order to avoid worse problems, capitalists had to furnish aid from their own output; 2) Social: there was fear that the union movement would spread to other places in the Eastern branch; there was fear that the rank-and-file movement in the West would be radicalized; 3) Political: there was fear that a disturbance growing out of the inability to control the situation in Poland would bring about instability harmful to capital’s interests.
This situation required that something be done. It pushed the capitalist class to find political solutions (a coalition between Solidarity, Church, Party), and if they failed, to turn to military intervention. Everything was oriented toward political change; the capitalist class did not categorically reject a political transformation but in order to accomplish it, while preserving capital’s interests, it needed a powerful authority.
Solidarity had demonstrated, daily, that this union was not the powerful authority that capital was looking for. To the capitalist class, any political transformation sponsored by Solidarity was a gloomy prospect indeed. Such a political transformation would encourage yet more rank-and-file activities, whereas what was needed was to curtail them, to control them, to crush them. The capitalist class was undoubtedly aware of the risks of military intervention when it decided on this course. In the capitalist context, it was not difficult to choose between an attempt to restore capitalist order and the certainty of even greater chaos.
"In the Name of Law and Order" (Jaruzelski’s Declaration of December 13, 1981)
Can the military intervention be seen as the execution of an order coming from Moscow, which was annoyed by all of Jaruzelski’s equivocating and, on December 11, had sent highranking ambassadors (among them, Koulisky, head of the Warsaw Pact armies) with an ultimatum: "lf you don’t do anything, we will"? Can the slow but sure promotion of Jaruzelski be seen as the setting up of a military system? Didn’t the legend of Jaruzelski (and of the army) – a legend propagated by Solidarity and by Walesa himself – ignore the fact that he was above all a military man with Russian training? At the crucial moment, would Jaruzelski not be the ideal person to carry out Moscow’s commands in order to preserve Russia’s strategic interests? It now appears that extensive precautions had been taken (in collaboration with the Russians) to avoid any leaks: for example, the printing, in Russia, of the proclamations of the state of siege, the use of the Warsaw Pact communications network for the preparations, the arrival of Russian soldiers in Polish uniforms. But it is difficult to verify all these assertions. It is more certain that by the end of the summer enough arrangements were being made to suggest that something was afoot. Brigadier General Leon Dubicki, who defected to the West, warned the leaders of Solidarity already in November 1980. He later remarked: "They minimized the whole problem. They knew and they didn’t act." Others said that in February 1981, Jaruzelski began choosing units he could depend on.
Nevertheless, even after December 1981, there still was no proof that the Polish army could unleash a bloody repression of Polish workers like the one the Russian army had perpetrated against East German workers in 1953 or in Hungary in 1956. By tradition and by political position, the Polish army was loyal to a Polish nationalism which excludes total submission to Russian interests. The Warsaw Pact is not a monolithic bloc without contradictions or rifts. The massive and direct presence of the Russian army and secret service in all countries in the Eastern branch of capital simultaneously serves a strategic function and is an element of social control; in both cases, it serves to protect Russian military interests. Could it be that the intervention of the Polish army guaranteed a strictly Polish capitalist, and in a way, anti-Soviet, solution?
As we will analyze below when we discuss Polish capital’s links with international capital (Eastern and Western branches), at this time Russia, because of its own problems, had no interest in direct intervention in Poland. Russia’s well defined strategic military interests and its economic-political domination were preserved through "peacefully" subduing the Polish conflagration. (The expression "state of war" should be understood for what it is: war against the workers and against their revolutionary activities.) Of course in the geographic distribution of capital’s repressive tasks, Russia’s position in Poland led it to furnish visible material support to the national repressive forces (if only to maintain an army in the field with provisions which the mistrustful Russians apparently limited to a one-week supply) and to organize a propaganda campaign which served as a warning to its own proletariat.
The two positions described in the preceding paragraphs reflect the difference of opinion over the role that Russia played – indirectly – in repressing the Polish workers. Before the "coup" on the night of December 12-13, the Polish army had increasingly "mixed" in the daily life of the country and it is clear that only the Polish army could have carried out the coup in this way. Military patrols were put on the streets at the beginning of October; more than 2,000 cities lodged military units whose function it was to supervise administrative and economic activity. This was undoubtedly essential for capital and for the two imperialisms, given the deficiencies of the completely discredited Party and the relief measures undertaken by a self-organized rank-and-file. Stationing the army around the country was officially designed for distributing foodstuffs, ensuring deliveries and resolving "local conflicts." A lieutenant-colonel even claimed: "People expect from the men in uniform protection against the stupidity and license of local bureaucrats and an end to the scandalous mess and favoritism." This installation of the military filled a power vacuum. It was directed more against the "uncontrolled rank-and-file" than against the Party or Solidarity, both organizations revealing their powerlessness at this time. Its purpose was to prevent the spread of the spontaneous organization network which had begun to appear both within enterprises and in distribution , projects. But behind its real and visible mission, this military grid provided an efficient information network and a capability for swift repressive action.
By November, even the authorities stopped concealing I their intentions. The November 9 Newsweek cited Jaruzelski suggesting that the only way out of the situation was martial law and a ban on strikes. The legislation introduced in Parliament at the end of November concerned not only strikes; it was a complete panoply of repressive proposals: prohibition of strikes and of all non-religious gatherings, restrictions on travel in Poland and abroad, proposals dealing with commodity distribution, with telecommunications, postponement of elections, draft of a law on unions, strengthening enterprise managers’ control over communication and printing facilities. Jerzy Wiatr, director of the Central Committee’s Institute of Marxism-Leninism, analyzed the Polish situation and perceived four possible courses, one of which was the setting up of a military government that would be acceptable to a large part of the population and which would require suspension of political liberties: "This power would base itself on the peasantry and the white collars . . . Very efficient and combined with profound economic reform, it should last several years, and possibly more than a decade." Lasting this long would make it close to the "interim technocratic" government that a Solidarity leader, Rulewski, was advocating on December 11.
The Polish Chaos is Contrary to the Interests of the Two Dominant Imperialisms: West and East Agree to Destroy a Dangerous Revolutionary Ferment
"Don’t you know with whom you are dealing?" Kadar asked Dubcek a few days before the 1968 Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia. The same question immediately comes to mind when one observes the incredible naivete combined with equally incredible pretensions displayed during Solidarity’s internal debates in December 1981 – from the Radom events (when the discussions were secretly taped by a police informer), to the session of the National Committee in Gdansk on December 11-12. Even though telex communiques from all parts of Poland kept arriving throughout the afternoon and reported troop movements and the calling up of reservists, the discourse on a referendum for free elections, on defending union rights by the "active strike," on setting up an alternative government, continued until 1 a.m. On this evening when telephones and transportation were not yet cut off, when the entire Solidarity apparatus was still intact, the delegates returned peacefully to their hotels, to be rounded up a few hours later by the hundreds, by the thousands, from their beds. In a few places, however, preparations for a confrontation had been made by the rank-and-file; underground factory committees were formed in Poznan, first-aid supplies were stockpiled in Olsztyn, food supplies elsewhere. As mentioned earlier, the situation was the reverse of the one in August 1980; now an organization was calling for strike action as a political solution to ensuring its survival, whereas in 1980 an entire spontaneous movement with material grievances had permitted an organization to establish itself and act as intermediary between it and capital. What is more, in eighteen months of discussions with capital’s representatives, the union leaders had become so accustomed to using their only force, the threat of closing down the vital industrial sectors (but only if this threat were wielded by them, and not by one of the wildcat movements they had so often repressed), that they overlooked the crucial fact that now it was the army taking action and that this institution was organized to act in an autonomous fashion without any support from civil society (responding, rather, to its own communications network). Even if this army did not have long-term supplies, Russia would furnish them. Moreover, a general strike had been threatened so many times without ever being called that the threats gave Party and police spies ample opportunities to study Solidarity’s mobilization techniques, and the rank-and-file finally recognized these threats for what they were: instruments of negotiation, and nothing more. Under the circumstances, a general strike would make sense only if it were insurrectionary and would proceed to set up its own organization to counter the repressive organization. In the face of this predicament, the leaders appeared defenseless; they could only make appeals, many of which were self-contradictory and in conflict with the leaders’ own recent restriction of rank-and-file movements. These appeals, first for a "passive" strike (work stoppage), then for an "active" strike (work with control over disposition of the products), then, finally, for submission, sounded like "recipes" designed to promote a policy which the rank-and-file movement had obviously rejected. The final call for submission was openly supported by the Church, which was concerned to preserve its gains, including those achieved as a result of the workers’ struggles. As mentioned earlier, Solidarity made no appeals while time still remained. Throughout its brief existence, Solidarity attempted to build a power apparatus by using the power of the rank-and-file and by acting against it; its repression was aimed at the autonomous groupings which tended to form in all the wildcat strikes which erupted one after another. Although these maneuvers of Solidarity were unsuccessful, since other strikes broke out, they objectively paved the way for the repression by capital’s armies. The December 3, 1981, militia raid on the Firefighters’ Academy, which had been occupied by students resisting a military statute, was more than a rehearsal and a test of public reaction. It was a rehearsal, because a few hours earlier, telephone and telex lines had been cut in all Warsaw Solidarity headquarters and enterprise branches, and because it was accomplished without fuss in mid-day, in the very center of Warsaw, despite crowds of protestors in front of the building. It was a test of public reaction, because there was no immediate spontaneous response from the factories to this raid, carefully chosen as a situation that did not involve workers. And it was more than these, because one could not help comparing this event to Bydgoszcz at the end of March 1981. Solidarity leaders had then responded by calling for a general strike (and everyone was prepared to carry it out); now, too, they declared an extreme emergency-but banned any action which did not have specific instructions from the "central leadership." A few days later, for the second time since the hunger marches of the summer of 1981, Solidarity leaders, in launching their political demands, issued a call for mass demonstrations in Warsaw and in other cities on December 17 "against the use of force to resolve conflicts.” But there would be no December 17, since the outcome of Solidarity’s entire eighteen-month history was that it could no longer resort to the weapon of the workers: the general strike, the weapon which all workers had used in July – August 1980, but which the union had gradually blunted. We will not dwell on the military-police intervention on the night of December 12-13. (The necessity of selectively joining the two forces demonstrates the extent of the rank-and-file movement and the relative weakness of the front line of the repressive apparatus – the police – even though its "reliability" made it the spearhead of the repression and the instrument of control over the army.) What happened was that one section of the army of the Eastern branch of capital intervened in Poland (because this was its designated operational zone) on behalf of the consolidated imperialisms and it destroyed some of the economic-political structures (or what remained or was expected of them) in order to try to rebuild a system which would preserve the interests of the dominant imperialism better than the former system did. Whatever the consequences, unified capital had to destroy this revolutionary conflagration whose existence was a constant threat. The Military Council for National Salvation, composed of generals and admirals, was, according to Jaruzelski, "the last chance before the collapse of the State," He was right, but arresting tens of thousands of members of a substitute bureaucracy only eliminated an apparatus which was taken by surprise because of its illusions and its intoxication with power. In France, economist Aleksander Smolar, KOR representative to the Socialist International, accurately wrote; "The authorities are largely mistaken about their enemies. The real radicals are not Solidarity’s leadership. The real radicals are the Polish people, the Polish workers." But he should have added that, despite appearances, the army’s repression was directed primarily against Polish workers and that if the union apparatus was swept away at the same time, it was to attack more effectively the rank-and-file movement and to deprive it of an instrument which it might have made use of.
Thus, as in all major workers’ struggles, at the critical moment the circumstances and the logic of events eliminated the intermediaries, both political and unionist, and the working class found itself-almost empty-handed – facing capital’s ultimate bulwark: the armed forces. The military leaders were well aware that they were creating economic chaos. Jaruzelski acknowledged: "In an extraordinary situation, extraordinary methods are essential. The rebellion must be put down.” To an army chief, it is clear what that means.
A New Turning Point in the Polish Workers’ Class Struggle
While deliveries, mail service, radios, telephones, newspapers, air and automobile traffic were reduced to minimal levels, it was easy to announce that "the situation is returning to normal." By completely blocking all systems of communication, thus paralyzing the state as well as the economy, the military killed two birds with one stone; they made it extremely difficult to coordinate a resistance movement and they also made it difficult to determine the extent of the resistance to the military coup; not only was information unavailable, but it was impossible to assess how the resistance affected the functioning of the system.
But this was not the case for the factories and mines. We know that from Monday, December 14, practically all factories were paralyzed. In the seven principal industrial regions, all the large factories were occupied by the workers. The repressive tactics seem to have been the same everywhere: army tanks broke down the gates, some of which had been soldered shut. Then the militia entered the factory and "persuaded" the workers to leave. Those who resisted were arrested and treated as criminals. (We should take note of the difference in treatment meted out to union functionaries – not to speak of Walesa himself – under preventive arrest, and to those arrested in the thick of the struggle; moreover, this discrimination increased in the days that followed.) Censorship and the blackout of all communications has prevented us from learning the details about this first period of spontaneous struggle against the militarization of labor, the period between December 13 and 31, 1981. Could it be that there actually was a general strike? The Solidarity leadership had called for one in response to the governmental coup which they sensed was coming but which they considered improbable. Moscow reported on December 23 that ten days after intervention, 20% of Polish workers were still on strike. Little is known about Poland in general, paralyzed as it was by the disruption of communications, but something is known about the resistance in a few regions of heavy industrial concentration. On December 16 and 17, a veritable pitched battle took place in Gdansk, first at the shipyards, then at the railway station. People were killed and more than four hundred were wounded. The army was probably relieved by the militia. The shipyards were eventually cleared by force and were reopened on January 4 – after new identification badges were issued. The Szczecin shipyards, cleared by force, were again occupied on Friday the 18th by workers armed with rifles and supplied with enough food for several weeks; the outcome here is not known.
On December 23, the Ursus tractor factory was finally "pacified." Night after night, the militia had entered the occupied plant and proceeded to beat and arrest whomever they found there. The Pafawag railway car factory in Wroclaw was taken by storm with armored cars; fifteen people were killed. In Lublin, some militiamen were taken as hostages in a helicopter factory. But it was in the SilesJan mines that the insurrection of the workers posed the greatest threat to the authorities. On December 23, thirty shafts were still occupied. At the Ziemowit mine, 1300 miners shut themselves in after blowing up one of the entrances and mining the other. At the Piast mine, 1740 men were at the bottom of the mine; women and children also went down. At Huta Katowice, 8000 workers barricaded themselves in the steel plant. They shut down the blast furnaces and threatened to blow them up with acetylene and oxygen. This region also reported disturbances in the army (mutinies, arrests, executions).
The security units gradually took over the repression and relegated the army to the background. These reliable troops overcame one by one the bastions of worker insurrection. The militia took Huta Katowice by storm on December 23. There were fourteen killed at the Manifest Lipcowy Mine and violent confrontations at the Anna and Salsk Mines. At Ziemowit and Piast, the miners shut themselves in the mine and threatened to blow up everything, including themselves. The Piast miners did not come up again until December 28. At the Wujek Mine, 2000 miners remained below on December 13, but were dislodged three days later, following a ferocious battle with the militia who literally took the mine by storm. Eleven were killed, eighty wounded. At Radom, more than two thousand were arrested. The list of dead and wounded grew longer. An armed peace was imposed on Poland.
In addition to eliminating intermediaries in the class struggle against capital, the military intervention had other consequences. The struggle was once again confined to the production plant, since the web of contacts permitting the struggle to spread quickly had been destroyed. But, paradoxically, the repression re-established those conditions for the future; the unity of the repression and the new conditions of exploitation (militarization of enterprises, new working conditions, price hikes) restored the unity of the rank-and-file movement that had been broken when Solidarity was politicized. In certain sectors, the rank-and-file movement had been in a position to do what it wanted to do and when it wanted to do it. This was intolerable for capital and the repressive action was first of all concentrated against this. As in every capitalist country, East and West, this repressive action again confined rank-and-file movements to the authorized framework of exploitation by defining the limits which may not be exceeded without provoking-ultimately-armed intervention, This is what happened in Poland and what happens daily everywhere in the world.
The authorities were able to militarize vital enterprises, make workers sign no-strike pledges and renounce Solidarity, increase the work week to forty-eight hours, revoke free Saturdays, and decree compulsory employment between the ages of 18 and 45, when the workers seemed to be defeated militarily, while army and militia were still mobilized, weapons in hand, and while Party supervision in the factories was reinforced with direct military supervision. Under these conditions it was possible for WRON (the ruling military-civilian council) to state that Poland experienced "the first day in fifteen months without a strike." They then proceeded to open the naval shipyards, schools and universities and left the "disruptive elements" out in the cold. And one month later they could authorize price increases of between 100% and 200% amidst impressive demonstrations of force. This did not change the shortages and every worker understood that the "reorganization of the economy" would be achieved primarily through a much larger extortion of surplus value. The Polish workers had been fighting openly against this for more than ten years and militarization was a logical step in capital’s response to their continuing struggle. Whatever institutional reforms were undertaken, whether by peaceful means or by using force, the apportionment of surplus value remained the fundamental issue.
One battle had been lost, but the working class was far from defeated. From the beginning, the militarized society could not prevent the rise of new and overt forms of resistance. In Gdansk on January 30, two hundred were arrested after large-scale demonstrations; in Poznan, 114 were arrested; there were overt go-slow strikes for specified periods in Wroclaw, Ursus, Lodz. The "leaders" of this open class warfare were rewarded with long years in prison, usually three to ten years. On February 18, an enormous round-up added 3500 to the thousands arrested since December 13. But at the same time the military government had to undertake some "adjustments," reduce certain prices, shorten working hours, grant three free Saturdays out of four, restore certain holidays. It had to set up "special factory committees" to deal with pressing social tasks (housing, emergency aid, etc.). All this indicates that the government, faced with large-scale resistance, had to make concessions. In spite of the terror, the resistance continued, though altered in form. It did not consist mainly of the underground terrorist movements which were beginning to operate and which, ultimately, led to the same abyss as political activity, but, rather, of working class resistance in areas of capitalist production where it revived the everyday techniques acquired through years of struggle but less used since July 1980. One phase of the struggle had ended and a new one was beginning. This one was much less susceptible to the repression but was just as detrimental to capitalist exploitation; this is the very heart of worker resistance in the East as in the West. Another phase was beginning, the phase of passive resistance: absenteeism, slow-downs, sabotage, etc. In Szczecin, forty ships waited to be unloaded because the dockers were "working to rule." Martial law had created an administrative vacuum in which passive resistance could be practiced. It is hard to describe the vicious circle in which all industrial activity found itself due to the lack of raw materials and spare parts, the communications breakdown, the absence of decisionmaking on all levels, and the various forms of worker sabotage.
In one week, the Ursus factory produced only one tractor. At the FSO auto plant near Warsaw, the workers altered the tolerance levels of the machine-tooled components so that the parts no longer fit together on the assembly line. In Gdansk, some dockers loaded and unloaded the same cargo. In Silesia, under the auspices of the Solidarity local, the following "rank-and-file rules for passive resistance" were circulated:
1. During a strike, stay with the workers; do not establish strike committees; there should be no leaders.
2. In contacts with the police or the military you should be uninformed, you know nothing, you have heard nothing.
3. In every place of work, Solidarity members must be present physically. Do not risk arrest by foolhardy acts.
4. Do not take revenge on your neighbor. Your enemies are the policeman, the over-eager employee, the informer.
5. Work slowly; complain about the mess and incompetence of your supervisors. Shove all decisions into the lap of commissars and informers. Flood them with questions and doubts. Don’t do their thinking for them. Pretend you are a moron.
6. Do not anticipate the decisions of commissars and informers with a servile attitude. They should do all the dirty work themselves. In this way you create a void around the bastards, and by flooding them with the most trivial matters you will cause the disintegration of the military-police apparatus.
7. Eagerly carry out even the most idiotic orders. Do not solve problems on your own. Leave that to the commissars and informers. Ridiculous rules are your allies. Always remember , to help your friends and neighbors regardless of the rules.
8. If some bastard instructs you to break a rule, demand written orders. Complain. Try to prolong such games as long as possible. Sooner or later the military commissar will want to be left in peace. This will mark the beginning of the end of the dictatorship.
9. As often as possible take sick leave or days off to take care of your children.
10. Openly shun the company of informers and bastards.
11. Help the families of the arrested, wounded and all victims.
12. Collect money for social self-help funds in your enterprise.
13. Take active part in the campaign to counter official propaganda, spread any information you have about the situation in the country and acts of resistance.
14. Paint slogans, hang posters on walls and distribute leaflets. Pass on independent publications. But always be cautious!
15. In any organizational activity, always keep in mind two principles: I know only what I need to know, and today there is nothing more important than the struggle for national liberation, the lifting of the State of War, respect for civil liberties and union rights. (Le Monde, December 31, 1981)
* * *
Such counsels are the daily practice of workers throughout the capitalist world. Was it necessary to recall these counsels in the form of union orders while combining them with old slogans about "national liberation" and "rights" and "liberties"? When chaos reigns as a result of confusion produced by the authorities themselves, it is much easier to push things a little further by making use of the chaos and contributing something to it. But workers know this better than anyone and they do not need "guides" to instruct them; in such circumstances, workers can find individual and collective responses appropriate to the situation in their plant. The January 18, 1982 Newsweek reported that most factories were operating at only 50% of their capacity. It is hard to say to what extent the class struggle – both direct actions and their cumulative effects – contributed to this statistic. As the (London) Times emphasized on December 28, 1981, "In any case, it is impossible to run a complex modern economy by terror." The Dutch weekly, Vrij Nederland, (in December 1981) was more explicit: "Whatever they try to construct in Poland without the workers is doomed to failure." Intervention had made this vividly apparent. The two classes were once again confronting each other. A Polish sociologist was quoted in the (London) Sunday Times of January 3, 1982: "The trouble with the authorities is that they simply didn’t expect such a reaction. They see the social world as they see their own party. So they thought that by arresting the top leaders that would finish it. They have no way of understanding the nature of a mass movement. Nothing in their background and training equips them to understand.”
A Tactical War
As good strategists, the military men and super-technocrats thought they could even plan out the consequences of their brutal intervention. They believed that in the next three or four years, with the population under control once more and living conditions sufficiently improved through economic reforms, all discontent could be easily channelled. This was, to some extent, tactical warfare on their part, a follow-up to open warfare. The first task was to restrict Polish workers to the confines of their exploited situation (to which they had just been brutally returned) and to make them accept working conditions like those imposed on them in the wake of the repression.
The class struggle did not end, but its real character was not immediately apparent. There was a great deal of uncertainty; the defeat of the working class and Solidarity’s dislocation masked the actual activities of the proletariat; the apparent monolithic nature of the army and its military methods hid the weaknesses of a system which was shaken by rivalries within the ruling circle and by convulsions of an economy out of control.
In 1982 and 1983, working class activity took place largely in the streets and in the enterprises; it is sometimes hard to distinguish the social struggles from the specifically political ones. We have seen that months before the December 1981 coup, rank-and-file actions became dissociated from Solidarity’s increasingly political activity – a result of the capital-labor dialectic. The repression, which appeared to be directed equally against Solidarity’s organization and the workers’ December actions (although the punishments differed greatly in degree), made it seem that the union apparatus and the rank-and-file were once again united in a common struggle ` where the specific interests of the workers coincided with those of the dismantled union apparatus. For a time, the underground organization tried to reconstitute itself and to assert its power and credibility. It could do this only by making use of the rank-and-file movement and by trying to involve it in factory struggles or street demonstrations which had objectives useful to Solidarity’s survival as organization but which also could appear to be defending workers’ gains since July 1980. From this point on, the program of those who set themselves up as provisional underground administrators was clearly geared toward acquisition of authority (liberation of prisoners and amnesty, reinstatement of Solidarity and dialogue with the government), while rank-and-file actions continued to be motivated by conditions of exploitation. By the beginning of 1982, it was obvious that the mass of workers was reviving a rank-and-file organization, the one which had existed before the December coup, and that the underground committees, attempting to coordinate the struggle, thought they had recovered their faithful followers. These committees thus understandably hoped they would be followed when they gave an obvious political cast to the demonstrations, factory actions and strikes which they organized at regular intervals and which had as their principal goal the recognition of Solidarity as spokesman for the reform of the capitalist economy. But the situation was radically different from the one in the summer of 1980. Then, a mass movement had brought Solidarity to life; now Solidarity wanted to create a mass movement in order to resurrect itself.
It would be tedious to list all the actions which took place prior to the autumn of 1983. Every month, if not every week, demonstrations which often encountered brutal repression took place in the major cities; sometimes people were killed; hundreds and even thousands were arrested, then given relatively light punishment, and released. Anything could serve as pretext, but the underground committees’ political objectives were invariably repeated. Sometimes the actions consisted of workers coming out of their factories, but usually they were gatherings of a cross-section of the population in churches or in the street under the pretext of a religious or nationalistic observance. The frequency of the actions and the number of demonstrators taking part in them may seem impressive but compared to the mass demonstrations in the summer of 1980 and even during 1981, they involved only the active minority. One might consider the repression responsible for both limiting the extent of these actions and for their progressive decline at the end of 1983. However, this repression was not more severe than in 1970, 1976 or 1980; it may have been less violent and some of the demonstrations remained peaceful and even had a sort of tacit authorization. If this type of guerrilla activity against the government ran out of steam, it was because this form of action gradually lost the support of the rank-and-file of the workers and because the workers more and more openly showed that they were not inclined to follow the political calls of the underground Solidarity committees. (The regional committees had been replaced by a national committee, the TKK.)
Realizing that their sphere of action lay more in the enterprises than in the streets, the committees tried to launch strike movements by getting the support of active rank-and-file workers who were operating more or less autonomously. Most of these efforts were woefully unsuccessful. The most important failure was the strike called for October 11, 1982, opposing the new legislation on unions which put an end to Solidarity. In spite of the significant deterioration in the standard of living and the resulting discontent, the strike objectives were exclusively political: restoration of Solidarity, release of Walesa and amnesty. Only one crew from the Gdansk Lenin Shipyards went on strike; they set up a strike committee which called for a general strike. Here, too, there was an attempt to achieve from above, for the benefit of Solidarity alone, what the rank-and-file had done in August 1980 for the benefit of the workers. Two days later, there was nothing left; a few cities had some demonstrations but nothing out of the ordinary. One can blame the militarization of the factories, the isolation, etc., as certain discouraged workers hastened to do; but the failure was due simply to the fact that the great majority of workers were not inclined to follow. When one of them declared, "It’s finished now. We are losing . . . We are alone," he was not referring, as he thought he was, to the totality of the workers, but to the handful who thought that an exclusively political action was sufficient to put pressure on the government.
This situation made it clear to the authorities that the Solidarity apparatus had become harmless. The repression was certainly partly responsible for this but, objectively, the approach Solidarity leaders adopted to recover their following was most to blame. As prisoners of their theories, the leaders were led to expose to the repression their contacts in the factories who had the closest links with the rank-and-file; these contacts were then lost to them. In fact, the only consequence of the unsuccessful strikes, a serious one for the apparatus, was to empty the enterprises-through dismissals-of the rankand-file Solidarity militants who had escaped the December round-ups. The freeing of almost all the Solidarity union militants at the end of 1982 was only one aspect of the normalization of the repression, of the return to the minimal freedom a modern economy needs in order to function, of incorporation into the system of special laws permitting military intervention. The Church contributed a great deal to this normalization and from the spring of 1982 on, made appeals for "order and calm" and expressed its "hopes for stabilization and for bringing about a renewal. " For the workers and peasants, the Church played the ambiguous role of being a substitute for Solidarity because it was the only existing legal organization besides the army and the Party.
This role had its limitations, however, especially in regard to the workers. The attempts by the technocratic-military alliance to reconstruct a viable apparatus for managing the capitalist economy ran into insurmountable obstacles; aside from the army, no organized structure – neither the Party nor the new unions-was able to manage a system which required minimal participation in order to function. (In December 1983, the army again had to send special emissaries around the country to find out the real state of things in Poland.) At every level of society, the forces of direct repression, capital’s ultimate bulwark (which had been obliged to take the place of the customary intermediaries) was confronting labor which was once again carrying on the struggle in its own way, using the means it had available at the time, Although few of these means are known, since very little of what actually happens in the enterprises filters through, the fact that the significant price increases slated for the beginning of 1984 were postponed and considerably reduced in the face of expressions of discontent, gives an idea of the government’s fear of another explosion similar to the ones in Poland’s recent past. It is important to note that this happened just when the local union organizations were visibly weakened and reduced to ideological groups and when there was no move either to impose measures necessary for economic recovery or to counter attempts to further lower the standard of living. The vacillations of the authorities are evidence of the workers’ resistance. One might think that this was a return to the pre-1980 situation but, in fact, everything is much further along. Between the two sides, capital and labor, there is no longer an opportunity for intermediaries to prevent direct confrontation.