The Solidarity Movement in PolandThe Solidarity movement in Poland was one of the most dramatic developments in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. It was not a movement that began in 1980, but rather a continuation of a working class and Polish intelligentsia movement that began in 1956, and continued in two other risings, in 1970 and 1976. The most significant of these risings began in the shipyards of the ‘Triple City’, Gdansk, Sopot and Gdyniain 1970.
The first and by far the most violent and bloody of the workers revolts came in June of 1956, when at least 75 people died in the industrial city of Poznan. The third uprising took place in 1976 with workers striking in Warsaw, and rioting in the city of Radom. What made the Solidarity movement peaceful and far more successful in comparison to that of the previous three? The Solidarity movement originated in the working class, but unlike the previous three risings it also worked with and was involved with the Polish intellectual community. Was this the reason behind its success? Or was it instead the result of the U.
S. S. R. losing its hold in the eastern bloc, and the fledgling economy of Poland that made such a movement inevitable? While everyone of these points was a factor, the strongest and most compelling argument can be made for the unification and working together of Poland’s most influential social classes, the Polish intelligentsia, the workers, and the Church. This strategy eventually led to the infamous ’roundtable’ talks and the collapse of communism itself in Poland.
The ‘Polish October’ of 1956 did not begin with Stalin’s death in 1953, in fact Poland was quite calm, in stark contrast with other Eastern bloc countries. While demonstrations took place in Plzen, Czechoslovakia, and a revolt was taking place in East Germany in mid-June, Poland was slow to follow the ‘New Course’ that was being offered by neighboring countries. This was a result of a much slower relaxation than the other countries experienced. Regardless, social and intellectual unrest began building up, with collectivisation being slackened and censorship showing cracks, the nation had a sense that a new start must be made. The Polish intelligentsia was one of the most important groups to emerge during this period. The Polish intelligentsia is, and remains, a distinct social class that is composed of those with a higher education, or those who at least share similar tastes.
The Polish intelligentsia originates in the nineteenth-century, when Polish nobility moved to the cities to occupy itself with literature, art, and revolutionary politics, due to it’s loss of estates and land. This distinct social group was feared and recognized by both Stalin and Hitler, 50 percent of Polish lawyers and doctors and 40 percent of Polish university professors where murdered in World War II. The re-emergence of this group leading to the ‘Polish October’ is significant in that it would play a crucial role 25 years later. Unfortunately for Poland, the Polish intelligentsia and the working class often led separate uprisings, and had trouble connecting in the causes that they were fighting for.
Many events and reasons, many similar to that of 1980 culminated to the uprisings in October, and the crackdown that followed. The focus has to be put primarily on the fact that it was only in part a workers rebellion, because the workers’ movement in Poznan had no central structure or leadership. It was instead a rebellion of the intelligentsia, which was in a system that denied them access to the elite. The intelligentsia did not put both movements together, the different social classes were divided in what they wanted. It is incredulous that the intelligentsia did not look to make a concerted effort with the workers, as it would not do in 1970 or 1976.
The New PowerThe following events were the prelude to 1980, and they are tragic. On the twelfth of December 1970, a series of unexpected price changes were announced. Consumer goods only rose a small percentage in price, but certain foods had huge price increases. Flour rose by sixteen percent, sugar rose by fourteen percent, and meat cost seventeen percent more. On the next morning three thousand workers from the Lenin shipyard at Gdansk marched on the provincial party headquarters. The workers were ordered back to work, the maddened workers incited a riot.
With fires started and stones thrown, the city militia could not hold the masses back. On Tuesday, December fifteenth, the workers at the Paris Commune Shipyard in Gdynia stopped work and demonstrated in the main streets. A general strike was announced in Gdansk, and the police opened fire on demonstrators. Men on both sides were killed. In the fighting the Party building and the railway station was burned down. The next day the rebellion spread to the towns of Slupsk and Eblag, and the workers at the Warski Shipyards in Szczecin were preparing to strike.
Reports were coming in of supportive strikes in other cities. On Wednesday workers began occupation strikes in factories. On Thursday morning, workers walking to the Paris Commune yard were fired on, at least thirteen were killed. Later that day workers from the Szczecin shipyard surged out into the city, and street fighting, costing at least sixteen lives, continued through Friday. By Saturday it appeared a nation-wide strike would inssue. Twenty-one demands were drawn up by the workers, one of which asked for ‘independent trade unions under the authority of the working class’.
Although this was not achieved in 1970, it is apparent that this was clearly a marking of a new era in the thought process of the Polish workers. The course of action that Prime Minister Gomulka took cost him his job, he was the one who ordered the use of fire arms against workers. Brezhnev himself advised a political rather than a military solution. Gomulka’s fate was sealed, and the reign of Gierek ensued.
The movement was far from over, but the most important parts had already happened. The lack of the Polish intelligentsia was apparent in a face to face meeting with Gierek, and other party officials, that the workers at the shipyards in Sczecin and Gdansk had on the twenty-fourth of January, 1971. Gierek coerced the workers to stop the strike by appealing himself as a Polish patriot, and a man that wanted to keep Poland from collapse. These workers’ neither had the thought nor the conceptualization that a collapse could very well be what Poland needed. The intellectuals could have done exactly what was done in 1980, the opportunity was just as ripe, but it passed, and another opportunity would not arise for another five years. The government could do nothing but appeal to the workers to help them out, otherwise more demands would have to have been met by them.
In mid-February, with uneasiness in the country, Gierek restored the old prices. This was the first time a decision by a communist government was overturned by the working class, the class that theoretically was in power. Although a larger victory could have been had, the workers had no concept of overthrowing socialism, they merely wanted a better socialism. In 1976 another price increase went into affect, this time raising meat prices by sixty-nine percent, and sugar prices by one hundred percent. With memories of the successful 1970 campaign, on June twenty-fifth work stopped all over the country.
Almost immediately Gierek repealed the increases. It was clear the working class had a lot of power, power that it had not yet maximized. Power that the intelligentsia was only beginning to see as a source for future social change. SolidaritySo far most of the work in revolutionizing Poland was done by the workers. So where was the Polish intelligentsia that seemed to disappear from the landscape after the 1950’s? It was always there, but while it was respected by the workers, the Polish intelligentsia had not worked very hard to unite itself with them.
A social split existed that made the intelligentsia feel somewhat superior to the workers, feeling a change could only be made by intellectuals at the top. That view and feeling slowly changed, the biggest of these changes in social thought appeared when the printings of illegal, uncensored leaflets and books by a group of intellectuals calling themselves the Committee for the Defense of Workers’ Rights (KOR) and the Movement for the Defense of Civil and Citizens’ Rights (ROPCiO) emerged. In September of 1979, a press briefing by the Ministry of the Interior listed twenty-six ‘anti-socialist’ groups. These groups were not publicly denounced, but they were open to beatings and imprisonment by the secret police. One of the major events to occur in 1977 was an informal alliance between the Catholic Church and the opposition.
The Church would be instrumental in uniting the cause of workers in the Baltic to those in other regions of the country. On the other side of the coin, Poland’s economy was disastrous. In fact the national income fell by two percent in 1979. Industrial output was showing negative growth of five percent.
From having one of the highest growth rates in the world, only five years later Poland had an economy in such shambles that it was dependent on Western banks to keep functioning. The time was perfect to strike. On the fourteenth of August 1980 the members of a little group called the Free Trade Union conspired to start a strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, which employed 17,000 workers. The pretext was so a crane driver named Anna Walentynowicz, would get her job back after being fired. The reason behind this was that she was one of the most powerful orator’s in the whole strike movement. They had tried to start a strike a month before under the pretext of a meat price increase, but they had failed.
This time they brought posters and leaflets, which they promptly put up. They declared ‘We Demand the Reinstatement of Anna Walentynowicz and a Cost of Living Rise of 1,000 Zlotys’. Men quickly gathered around to read the signs and leaflets, ignoring the party officials calls to go back to work. A mass meeting formed at one of the gates. Klemens Gniech, the manager, argued and pleaded the workers not to form a strike committee. The meeting was starting to loose steam as some workers began to go back to their jobs.
At that moment, a man embittered by the deaths of the strikes of 1970, maddened by being imprisoned over one hundred times, stepped out. This was a man who was still furious over being fired four years earlier from that very shipyard, a man who had a keen understanding of the workers struggles, he jumped up to the bulldozer roof and yelled at Gniech Remember me? I gave ten years to this shipyard. But you sacked me four years ago! His name was Lech Walesa. He turned to the men and women below him and shouted that an occupation strike would begin now. He was cheered loudly, and soon they were asking for him to be reinstated also. No one realized what this would set off.
By the next day strikes began to spread throughout the ‘Triple-City’. The demands were far bigger now, even asking for the right to establish free trade unions. The leaders began to negotiate with Gniech, but what they had not realized was that the whole city basically gone on strike. The strike committee agreed on a 1,500 zloty pay raise, and was ready to return to work. Walesa went outside and announced the news, to his surprise he was jeered.
He had misread the mood. Instantaneously he changed his mind and went around the shipyard pleading everyone to continue striking. The strike continued and it spread. One of the biggest developments in the history of Polish strikes and uprisings happened soon after.
Intellectuals came in to help out the workers in drafting documents and demands. They began what eventually led to the legalization of trade unions. They played for the high stakes, they issued ultimatums that said that they would not negotiate until all political prisoners were freed. These were demands that previously would not have been made.
With both groups working together, both benefited. The government, having no choice, complied. The rest, as they say, is history. The Solidarity Union would soon have ten million members, one-third of the Polish workforce. The changes that ensued promised the downfall of socialism in Poland.
Although martial law slowed down the process in 1981, Solidarity was working in the underground. Solidarity forced the roundtable talks that led to free elections in 1989, and the eventual fall of communism, not only in Poland, but in all the Soviet bloc countries. The work of the Polish worker, and that of the Polish intellectual accomplished what many thought would never happen. Poland is a country with a history of uprisings, all of which failed, except for this one. No other movement connected the Polish intelligentsia and the Polish worker.
Would Polish insurrections have worked earlier in history if this was also the case? One can always second guess, but it is clear the changes that occurred in Poland, occurred because of the intellectuals working with the workers. They had the vision, the workers had the mass to demand that vision to become a reality. Bibliographic ReportLamb, Matthew. Solidarity with victims: Towards a Theology of Social Transformation. New York: Crossroad, 1982.
-deals with Sociology and Christianity. The role of the church during the solidarity movement and why it helped to make it more of a successful and peaceful demonstration. Lockwood, David. The problem of disorder in Durkheimian and Marxist Sociology.
Oxford; Claredon Press, 1992. -Sociology and Philosophy. Durkheimian school of sociology is discussed as well as an insight into the Marxian School of Sociology. Some discussions on social conflict. Persley, Stan.
The Solidarity sourcebook,Vancouver; New Star Books, 1982. -details labour unions. Discusses the working class in Poland and political activities. Poland’s politics and government in 1980. Touraine, Alain. The analysis of a social movement: Poland, 1980-81.
Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1983. -Outlines Poland’s social conditions in 1945 and then Poland’s Politics and government in 1980. Weschler, Lawrence. Poland in the season of its passion. New York; Simon and Schuster, 1982. -Information on Labour organisations and their inner workings.
Details on Poland’s industry from 1945-1980. Zagajewski, Adam. Solitude: essays. New York: Ecco Press, 1990. -Some details on the intellectual life in Poland between 1945-1980. University system, students and educators.
What kind of society was developing. Polish author so the essays are bias. Microsoft Encarta 96 (1996). .
Microsoft Corporation. -details on times, dates and places of protests. Polish Solidarity MovementKonrad SzczepanikStudent ID # 0058658Prof. John L. PratschkeHUMN 1050Emergence of a United EuropeHistory Essays