_Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland_ by Lawrence Goodwyn
Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland by Lawrence Goodwyn
NY: Oxford University Press, 1991
(xvii) But protest moves from idea to action when it becomes social - that is, when it is organized so that people are acting rather than writing or talking about acting.
(xix) The study of Solidarnosc that follows proceeds from an understanding that I believe is essential in providing the necessary connecting link between idea and action in history - quite simply, that social knowledge is experiential….
But while the inevitable disputations that ensue are frequently conducted in a vocabulary of high principle and in terminology arranged to project logical power, the beliefs and customs being projected are passionately held precisely because they have been experientially confirmed in daily life. For better or for worse, social knowledge is experiential, and the beliefs so shaped are taken to be “normal.”
..In considering that vast and varied area of human activity that can loosely be described as “the politics of protest,” the first thing that must be acknowledged is that the social activity suggested by the phrase is emphatically not perceived as ”normal.” The phrase itself refers in some general way to a dim arena of human activity, emotion, perception, and belief that is connected to unusual acts of unsanctioned assertion by previously little-known persons.
(xx) In essence, most “ideas” do not move to “action” because people are afraid to act on their ideas. Quite simply, they do not know what to do that is safe to do. The problem is one of power and the social fear that power can stimulate. Power generates in people experiences that teach the merits of caution.
NB: People also do not know what is effective, where the levers they can actually move are
(xxix) To summarize, at the heart of Solidarnosc was highly relevant social experience, not literary craftsmanship or erudite political analysis.
(10) Lech Walesa welcoming the government team on behalf of 370 enterprises: “The fact that we represent hundreds of thousands of people makes us feel sure that the cause we are fighting for is just. Coming here may bring home to you what a shipyard is like when the workers are governing themselves. You can see for yourself how orderly it is.” Walesa then provided the government team with its first indication that the strike committee did not intend to be stampeded: “The serious matters we must settle require us to act prudently and without haste. We have been waiting patiently for nine days, and we have plenty of patience left.”
(13) The twenty-one Gdansk demands were so sweeping in this intent that most Polish intellectuals, including the most respected and militant of the leaders of the democratic opposition, concluded they went much too far. The first demand, particularly, was seen as excessive and unrealistic, an example of militancy carried to the point of “impossibilism.” The workers were unmoved by this advice. Unbelievably, they acted as if there were issues even more vital than the twenty-one demands. The duality is starkly visible here: the status of the workers’ “helpers” - and all the contentions about police repression than even the far-ranging first demand which called for free trade unions independent of the party.
NB: Situationism: be realistic, demand the impossible
(18) There is a necessary human rhythm here - the pent-up needs of voiceless people when they are at last able to speak and a Chief Censor who is forced to listen. It is a fine moment in history, one that does not happen enough in any society or in any unbalanced human relationship. A bit of excess seems always to be visible the first time; its presence verifies the humiliation and tragedy of the past and signals that some basic realignment is in the offing, or is possible, or is at least passionately longed for.
(19) All governments lie when it is considered necessary, of course, but the form and extent of deceit often illuminate the kind of functioning social compact that actually connects the rulers and the ruled.
NB: IF Stone
(29) Only veteran organizers knew that “patience” was a quality that could also be described by two other words - “sustained militancy.”
(33) It is not simply “fear” or “apathy” that immobilizes people; it is knowledge they have been taught about how power works in their lives, in their jobs, in their neighborhoods, and, indeed, in most of their social relations. They desire change and yet do not believe they can get much of it.
Aspiration conjoined with anxiety - it is the essential political tension of modern society, as unwanted coupling deeply rooted in subjective experience and one that surfaces in many guises every day in every human being and in every public political action. A relatively simple condition to describe, it is also a pervasive condition, and its endurance through the generations mocks the pretension of much that passes as high political theory in the late twentieth century. But to understand this equivocal tension and to respond to it is the starting place for democratic politics - a juncture that marks the point at which democratic organization must begin.
(41) Solidarnosc Strike Bulletin no. 10 carried a deeply felt and highly ironic reflection of the corrupted socialist aspiration: “Workers of the World… my sincere apologies. [Signed] Karl Marx.”
(56) The slowdown meant that factories producing parts for production lines in other factories set in motion a chain reaction of routine shortages that pervaded the entire system. The phenomenon ensured that full-scale production rarely began before the fifteenth and sometimes even the twentieth of each month, insuring yet another round of end-of-the-month frenzy. The custom acquired a name - “storming.” It was a folkway of the entire Eastern bloc, nowhere more intractable as a system than in the Soviet Union itself. In Poland, production averages were ludicrous; first ten days, 7 percent of monthly output; second ten days, 22 percent; final ten days, 71 percent. The practice was wasteful of human and material resources and yielded additional waste in the form of shoddy products that quickly wore out. Since waste was literally structured into labor itself, the incoherence of storming seemed to undermine prospects for a better future.
(60) Grievances do not translate into movements; they merely make them possible. Movements happen when they are organized. They happen in no other way.
(109) We may characterize this moment of time [after the collapse of the “Spirit of October” in 1956] as one of “private insurgency.” It is a pivotal juncture, but in the literature of political theory, it has no name. As a component of social relations, it is one of the most uninvestigated areas of political science, a palpable lacuna rife with theoretical and practical import. The “moment” of private insurgency generates no historical records: it is, in a sense, invisible; it may therefore be understood to be pre-political. Nothing that might be characterized as a movement has yet emerged. It is, in fact, the last moment before movements become historical. It is that juncture when future activists are talking to each other and have not quite begun to ponder how to reach out and connect either with the larger society or with social groups other than their own.
(111) People had serious complaints, but seemingly nothing much could be done. So “politics" became the art of complaining to one’s acquaintances.
(113) Lawrence Weschler: “It occurred to me that our Western newscasts always offer us bite-size morsels, little digestible snippets that disguise the true horror of conflict - that is, that it just seems to go on and on and you have no idea when it’s going to stop.
(115) The occupation strike has a storied reputation in the American working class, among whose organizers it has long been known as the “Polish strike” and more widely as the sit-down strike. Its American popularizer was a militant trade unionist name Wyndham Mortimer, who in 1934-1935 successfully organized the work force at Cleveland’s White Truck Company, which contained a substantial number of Polish-Americans. In 1936, Mortimer was the organizing strategist behind the “great sit-down” at the Fisher Body plant in Flint, Michigan, that finally brought General Motors to the bargaining table and launched the United Automobile Workers of America. In turn, the Flint sit-down promptly became the organizing model for the CIO in other mass-production industries in America; it was the tool successfully employed to combat police and company thugs in the tense and often bloody recognition strikes int he steel, electrical, and rubber industries in the late 1930s. The CIO’s debt to the sit-down strategy was sizable indeed - and it was a debt to the Polish working class. The occupation strike had gained great fame int he early 1930s in Poland where socialist and communist trade unions battled the nation’s right-wing prewar government. By 1936, it had become a finely ones and widely used instrument of working-class assertion, a tactic so tested and so heralded that it made the long ethnic journey across “Polonia” to the CIO in America.
NB: Occupy, also Goodwyn’s idea that the lack of the sit-down strike doomed the farmer/worker alliance attempts of the Populists
(116) At party headquarters, a junior official tried to bring calm by suggesting the workers name deluges to come inside and negotiate. The workers turned this down out of fear, born of past experience, that anyone named would be arrested when the confrontation was over.
(139) Lech Walesa, for one, also found a way to put his highly prized electrical and mechanical skills to work in the cause. By some miracle of labor, ingenuity, and scavenging of parts, he was able to resuscitate an ancient Warszawa automobile, obtain a driver’s license, and plaster copies of the democratic constitution of 1791 over its windows. He thus created a kind of mobile democratic exhibit that signaled the presence of self-activity down every street he drove. Public display of the constitution was not, per se, illegal; it was, after all, a historical document. But in the social climate the party’s police strove to maintain, its public flaunting violated proper deferential form preferred by the authorities in People’s Poland. Walesa’s relic of a motorcar thus became a mobile symbol of opposition in Gdansk. It also represented one more small but tangible step toward taking back some of the public space that had long been enclosed within the party’s monopoly of civic expression.
NB: speaking loud at the bus stops
(142) The evolving status of dissent in Eastern Europe over the long years since the end of World War II was once explained to a British trade unionist by his Czechoslovakian counterpart: “Listen, my friend, twenty-five years ago, these people could have been tried and shot. Fifteen years ago they would have been put in prison. Now they simply lose their jobs. That’s progress under Socialism.” In Poland in the late 1970s, the organizing challenge was to avoid even the last-named sanction.
(150) In 1978, the police decision to take away Walesa’s driver’s license was merely part of a long-running psychological campaign aimed at destroying the jaunty confidence that was such a telling aspect of his recruiting ability. His response was to turn his new immobility into a recruiting tool. When he emerged from a forty-eight-hour detention, he would get on a bus without money and borrow zlotys from total strangers while telling all on board the details of his false arrest and his activities in the free union movement.
(156) The process by which Baltic workers constructed the building blocks of the house they called Solidarnosc was not mechanistic. Although in retrospect it is relatively simple to array the organizing pieces aside one another in sequential order so that (1) an occupation strike may be seen as the necessary step toward (2) an inter factory strike committee dedicated to (3) the achievement of a self-governing trade union independent of the party-state, the decisive prehistory of the Polish August was not set in place in such an orderly manner. Each component was a product of knowledge acquired through collective assertion over thirty-five years in an ever-changing social setting that continued to generate distressingly persistent social and economic problems.
(157) For all those who are skeptical of the presumed universal benefits of science, history has a wonderfully disorderly quality about it - inevitably so, given the unscientific character of humanity’s social relations. Everything that the Baltic working class had taught itself was in place on the coast on July 1, 1980.
(160) But beyond this essential starting point, he [Walesa] had learned over the years - in the shipyard in 1970-71 and again in 1976, at ZREMB in 1978, at Elektromontaz in 1979-80, and in the free unions - that the key to solidarity was communications. Uncertainty and the weakening resolve appeared when rumors appeared, and rumors came when people did not know what was happening. Walesa addressed this problem on the first morning.
… Director Gniech and the strike committee moved toward their first negotiating session, whereupon Walesa made his move: “It must be done so everyone can hear - over the loudspeaker.” Gniech was taken aback. A negotiation conducted over loudspeakers? It could not be done, he said….
Thus in one negotiating sally, and with technological finality, Walesa solved the entire problem of internal communications in the shipyard for the duration of the strike. The most anxiety-ridden worker in the last rank of the shipyard would be as informed as the most active militant. In one stroke, the rumor factor had been reduced to an absolute minimum. If the worker leadership could now keep both its poise and its programmatic militancy, the entire work force would support them. They would be politicized by events. They always were - when they could get information one events. To anyone who understood the worker milieu on the coast, the incorporation of the loudspeaker into the movement was an important step toward binding the community.
(162) Together with another worker, [Stanislaw] Bury secured all the acetylene, gas, and electrical equipment so that no party hooligan could come in and set off an “accidental” explosion as a pretext for bringing militia into the shipyard. The same thought occurred to other coastal workers with long memories. A worker militia was formed, given distinctive arm bands, and put in charge of security throughout the shipyard. The strike committee also banned all alcohol from the shipyard. Experience - the occupation strikes of the 1970s - informed action.
(164) He [Gniech] had tried to explain that the area outside Gate No. 2 where the workers had fallen in 1970 had been set aside for a new supermarket. Strike committee members were unmoved by this piece of intelligence, and one of them walked up to the microphone and addressed the massed thousands listening in the shipyard: “Do you want a monument?” The thunderous answer not only reduced Gniech’s maneuvering room, it impressed on him the extent to which the public nature of the negotiations robbed authorities of the strategic advantages normally adhering to power itself.
(165) It was, of course, a thoroughly undemocratic way out, though he found a way to exonerate himself as a person if not as a worker representative. Speaking in a loud voice he [Walesa] said:
“We must respect democracy and therefore accept the compromise, even if it is not brilliant; but we do not have the right to abandon others. We must continue the strike out of solidarity until everyone has won. I said I would be the last person to leave the shipyard. And I meant it. If the workers who are gathered here want to continue the strike then it will be continued. Now, who wants to strike?”
… Walesa’s inquiry “who wants to strike?” could have only one honorable answer, for it was the ultimate loaded question.
(169) For intellectuals - novelists, economists, poets, journalists and scholars, people whose life gained meaning by the expression of their understandings of life - the crippling moment came with the censor’s blue pencil. Things ended not at the typewriter but at what the typewriter produced; creativity stopped dead at the party’s censorship office. But for workers, censorship came at the very point of production itself - on the shop floors where incoherent production relations made for waste and inefficiency, where party disdain made for dangerous safety conditions, where worker creativity about organizing production ran afoul of “the plan” or the prerogatives of those in charge of the plan. There was no “bottom drawer” where workers could hide their creative thoughts from the party. Their very creativity itself was consumed by the blanketing control that the party’s trade union ruthlessly imposed on the shop floors of Poland. it was for precisely this reason - verified by the experiences of daily life - that workers understood the censorship in structural terms that went beyond the understanding of the intelligentsia. This was the reason workers understood the centrality of the first Gdansk demand in ways intellectual could not. It represented the very essence of their struggle for free expression.
(171) But as Walesa’s own organizing career had vividly demonstrated, such was not the self-conception working-class militants had of their movement. They saw the Interfactory Strike Committee as the entering wedge into Leninist Poland for the benefit of the whole population. The objective was to pressure the party to come to democratic terms with society and thus transform the style of governance in the country.
Men and women who had spent their working lives under the shop-floor tyranny of the official trade unions and who had been harassed and even deprived of their jobs because they dared to breach the censorship by specifying the duplicity of the party’s unions knew in their bones that the forthcoming struggle with the state turned on finding ways for the MKS to fashion as much institutionalized protection for itself as was strategically possible. Internally, the independent union movement needed to solidify its fragile mass base in the Lenin Shipyard when the working day began on Monday; in the meantime, it needed to augment as rapidly as possible the number of enterprises on the Baltic coast that could generate shop-floor meetings and elect delegates to serve on the Interfactory Strike Committee. In ideological terms, it needed to be understood that anything that worked at cross purposes to these internal prerequisites - whether free elections or free expression at police stations - was conceptually counterproductive. Even the most self-important spokesman for an opposition grouplet had to be conscious of the strategic orientation imparted by the simple location of the meeting room - in an industrial enterprise protected from a police raid by organized workers conducting an occupation strike just outside the meeting room.
(177) As has often been said, history is not “what happened,” it is what people persuade themselves happened.
(185) To read, observe, and learn without becoming contaminated - that was the challenge of every minute of every day in Polish life.
(193) The great challenge, one that many besides Lenin failed to meet, was to remain democratic while at the same time remaining insurgent.
(211-212) A central reality concerning the cultural components of democratic politics, as distinct from the familiar fabric of elite politics, here comes into full view. For ordinary people remote from power to be encouraged to collective action, clarity of purpose is needed. For widespread resignation, carefully instilled by centralized power, to be transcended, a clear and patently worthwhile objective is needed. For nagging and immobilizing fear, carefully cultivated by ruling authorities, to be overcome evidence that the goal is worth the risk is needed. “Free unions independent of the party!” In Poland, the opening word of the first Gdansk demand passed this test in a way unrivaled by any public document since the end of World War II.
(213) That Monday afternoon broadcast of Radio Free Europe, with its strange, Kuron-contrived emphasis on every part of the twenty-one demands except the most important demand, was heard by those Poles in the Gdansk area who were listening. But the information provided was silent on the mechanics of movement building. To those distant from the coast who did not know what an MKS was or how to join it, Radio Free Europe could provide no information and neither could Jacek Kuron. It was not merely that they were structurally uninformed; the key recruiting tool - the union free of the party - was missing from the message. The most relevant subsidiary informational tool - what to do to prepare a factory for affiliation with the MKS - was also missing.
(216) A way did indeed exist to form public committees and make public demands in People’s Poland without subjecting the organizers to instant police repression. Surround the organizers with an occupation strike of thousands of workers and augment the strike committee with the solidarity strikes by hundreds of other enterprises. It was not Kuron’s idea nor Walesa’s nor Boruswicz’s nor Wyszowshik’s. Rather, quietly it had simply grown out of the accumulated experience of the coastal working class itself, a kind of collective imagination which, step by step, seemed almost as if it were orchestrated by collective wisdom. But it was not orchestrated. It simply grew, logically, out of the coastal workers’ own experience, as they improvised to meet the successive challenges to their organizing effort. It could be understood, after the fact, that the Polish August had a certain democratic ring to it.
(220) Instead of withdrawing in disagreement upon hearing Walesa’s views, Mazowiecki and Geremek performed two strategically vital acts of coalition building. They listened to the reasoning of the workers’ spokesman and they stayed in the shipyard to help. That is, they put aside their doubts and took their places as cooperating members of the democratic movement.
(225) If the independent union could be won, many Walesas and Geremeks across Poland would have to try to learn how to talk to one another. It was the ultimate democratic test that history puts to social movements.
(226-227) In most societies, anything that might be called “national unity” has on occasion existed as an idea and also as a kind of yearning, but its actual historical appearance has most often been only a momentary happening confined to the outbreak and cessation of national wars.
The distinguishing political feature of the Polish August was not some multiple convergence but rather something much simpler and yet far more profound: the mobilization and consolidation of the working class. As a result of their condition in Polish society, the men and women who represented the change in Poland essentially as something that would come from below and as a function of their own efforts.
(229) As Walesa put it when closely questioned by the foreign press: “I don’t know these people. Our main problem is free trade unions; and it is not important for us who will meet with us.”
(232) Presidium members made clear they did not want a union that played the role of a political party, did not question the leading role of the party, did not care which party functionaries ran the country as long as they were in some way accountable to social control, and did not wish to tamper with the social ownership of the means of production. What they had to have, however, was a self-governing union.
(238) Mazowiecki’s proposal for secrecy was precisely the kind of political move toward self-promotion that is a settled part of political habit the world over. Anything that diminishes the size of a decision-making constituency enhances the authority and self-importance of the people remaining within the constituency. The drive to control others by maximizing the information one has and minimizing the information others have is a feature common to hierarchical modes of governance in all the world’s cultures.
(246) In fundamental ways, the history of Solidarnosc contradicts the assumptions undergirding mainstream capitalist and Marxist analyses as to how social movements develop in industrial societies. A basic understanding of what constitutes popular politics is at issue here. The word “politics” itself is poised for redefinition.
(247) Visible here is an absolutely critical distinction between democratic movements (full of diverse people) and that descriptive monolith, a “mass movement” (comprised of a single entity called “the masses”). It is the latter that is commonly thought of when people brood about or encounter popular politics. Mass movements have “leaders” who are taken to be the necessary objects of careful study, so their modes of manipulating “the masses” can be traced. Leaders are presumed to have goals that are divergent from “the masses,” a circumstance that makes manipulation operable and hierarchy inherent. Mass movements are created by “other people”; that is, people not of “the masses,” people outside the social formation that comprises the movement. An essential corollary is that movements that appear relatively leaderless at the moment of formation are, perforce, “spontaneous” movements.
(257) It is critically important to note that only since the appearance of the broad political tradition initiated by Hegel and Marx has the term “civil society” possessed such a narrow descriptive range. For example, the ancient Greek polis was not only a functioning civil society; its participants were intimately involved in politics. Civil society existed “inside” the Greek state as a functioning political force. As revived in the Italian Renaissance, the idea of civil society was enriched in its social and political dimensions by additional concepts of “civic virtue” before being further elaborated in the commonwealth tradition of seventeenth-century England, a strain of political thought that extended to far-ranging democratic conceptions that materialized within the English Revolution. The idea of a politically active civil society was an animating component of eighteenth-century republican political forms, pioneered in England and expanded upon during the American Revolution. This republican tradition yielded derived organizational forms as a feature of nineteenth-century workingmen’s associations, reflecting artisans egalitarianism, and self-organized rural cooperatives that formed the structural base of agrarian populism. Both of the later developments, as elaborated in America, were anchored in Jeffersonian conceptions of a properly functioning civil society erected upon, in Jefferson’s phrase, “elementary republics."
(258) The capitalist response, then, to industrialization produced technologically advanced societies that facilitated social loneliness, reinforced by political resignation. The explanatory rationale for this state of affairs was embodied in an emotionally powerful word of consolation: “progress.”
(259) The Polish movement was not, as some have tried to argue, a “self-limiting” exercise in “anti-politics”; nor was it in its early phases, as others have judged, “nonpolitical.” Rather, over a fifteen-month period of intense effort and internal debate, various sectors of the Polish populace successively became earnest participants in an Athenian polis, virtuous Renaissance citizens, good commonwealth advocates, zealous republican innovators, aspiring artisans egalitarians, and, in the end, pioneers bent on scouting out the beckoning frontiers of a self-managing republic. To observers whose eyes are accustomed to hierarchy, such Poles necessarily became, particularly in this last stage, “romantic” and “utopian.”
(263) Solidarnosc was unprecedented in history - the world’s first majoritarian insurgent democratic movement. All previous democratic revolutions, including the many that failed, have been conducted by minorities, sometimes highly politicized, but minorities nevertheless. Other revolutions, including those that attracted millions of adherents, defined themselves as movements of national, ethnic, class, or religious liberation. As it washed against the Leninist state, Solidarnosc drew from all of those tributaries in the interest of its larger purpose of democratizing Polish social relations. All of which is to say, Solidarnosc channeled contending currents. Indeed, the movement contained elements of discord that embodied contradictions rather than simple contentions. A great deal of the pioneering of new democratic forms initiated within Solidarnosc, both in practical terms and in projects that never were able to move beyond advanced stages of planning, were fashioned in an effort to cope with the internal tensions that grew out of the movement’s sheer size and broad democratic objectives.
(263-264) Revolutionary leaders as diverse as Thomas Jefferson and Mao Tse-tung have written about a certain human capability they regard as essential to social change. It may be quietly described as the ability to act publicly against sanctioned authority. Once acquired, this capability produces a highly visible result, but its activating ingredient is invisible. The elusive component is something people acquire _before_ they gain the capacity to act. It is something that has often been understood vaguely as an “insurgent attitude.” It has also been seen as a function of pure “will,” as in the injunction, “people must act as if they were free to act.” This “something” can also be described as a political stance, as suggested by words like “militant” or “radical."
(268) In this fashion, a deeply ironic truth slowly materialized in working-class Poland in the autumn of 1980. The MKS had been wrong to seek and the government had been wrong to attempt to deny nationwide recognition of the new independent union. For workers throughout Poland to acquire the sense of self necessary to permit them to behave subsequently in autonomous ways, they needed to earn their own union; to overcome their ingrained fear of the party, they had to struggle with the party. The reverse was also true. For provincial party functionaries across the nation to amend their ways and to begin softening their programmatic arrogance and their administrative condescension toward workers, they had to be forced to confront the organized power of their own provincial working classes. This dynamic worked itself out in every corner of Poland in the first ninety days or so following the historic settlement in Gdansk. The process constituted the heart of the democratizing experience that Solidarnosc brought to Poland. More than any other memory, it represented the essence of the democratic legacy that remained within the Polish population after martial law descended.
(270) “People,” said [Ralph] Bunche, “are ready for freedom when they are ready to take it.” It might be added that, historically, people may well be “ready” long before they have the opportunity to acquire freedom, but they are surely ready by the time they have won it. It is, after all, a quality that can only be learned through experience. Democracy begins with the attempt to have it.
NB: Democracy is a performative act.
(272) There was the case of the two intellectuals who, when asked to sign a protest, replied in contradictory ways. The first said, “I can’t. I have a son,” and the second said, “I have to sign, because I have a son.” Kazimierz Brandys, who took station on both sides of this dilemma, commented quietly: “The two answers express old alternatives, two threads woven throughout the histories of many cultures. The idea of survival, the injunction of revolt. The preservation of one’s existence, the legacy of honor… In the end, however, everyone must decide for himself what he fears more - life or himself.” It was the pride and agony of Polish history that so many chose to live what they thought.
Here was the particular social poison of the authoritarian state; it forced everyone to pay an intolerable price for the simple preservation of self-respect.
(280) Democratic patience is an essential requirement of democratic politics. Despite all homilies mobilized in support of this truth, this contingent understanding of democratic forms is by no means routinely reflected in the dominant political customs that have materialized historically. Rationalizations (such as “efficiency”) are constantly being invoked to justify hierarchy. There is no immediate structural panacea that can obliterate this cultural barrier to the appearance and growth of democratic forms in stratified modern societies. The most that can reasonably be expected (it is a serious step in the right direction) is the creation of structures of open discussion that people can then test and experience and from which they can learn concrete things both about the forms themselves and about their own individual and collective conduct within them.
One of the chief obstacles to democracy is not merely embedded in the problems of internal structure (critically relevant as those problems are) but also literally in the heads of people, in the received culture of anticipation they bring to collective activity. Specifying these hazards constitutes a simple recognition of the underlying reasons why no culture that can seriously be described as democratic has ever been achieved anywhere or at any time in history…
It is not too much to say that the period of Solidarnosc was one of the historic high points of mankind’s history of democratic quest.
(289) In terms of human experience, the singular political achievement of Solidarnosc was that theories and practices of self-management were not being explored in some tiny kitchen conversation among isolated visionaries hopelessly remote from political power, but rather were taking place at the center of a huge popular movement. In the relationship of political theory to self-activity by living people, this achievement was almost unprecedented. Beyond this, it was an equally important fact that the exploration was not confined to the Network’s leading circles or to the KKP itself; the basic subject matter of economics self-government had become an engaged topic in workplaces across all of Poland. Never in history had such far-ranging democratic premises been sanctioned for serious explorations within such a massive polity as Solidarnosc had constructed in Poland.
… Henry Norr, one of the few scholars in the world who has researched and written about [employee self-management]
(291) By the end of July 1981, the Polish movement had used up much of the familiar democratic inheritance available as a historical legacy of the American, French, Russian, and Chinese revolution and was trying to move beyond them into new social space of its own creation. To an extent never before attained in any country, large numbers of Poles, connected in a voluntary community of their own construction, were thinking and planning seriously about ways to erect that ultimate in democratic forms - a self-managing economy in a self-managing state. There had seemed to be visible energy for this task, but as July turned into August, there appeared a much more desperate energy in working-class Poland. Led by women textile workers, a spectacular three-day hunger march held the city of Lodz in thrall, even as transport workers achieved a massive tie-up on Warsaw on August 1 that effectively shut down the center of the nation’s capital for fifty hours. The issue in both cases was food.
(300-301) As a direct function of their prior voicelessness, unempowered people bring to social movements deep personal longings coupled with uncertainty about the public conduct necessary to express those longings. This circumstance scarcely constitutes a historical secret - inasmuch as it is an organic feature of all modern societies. From the perspective of high culture, the general assumption is that politically inert people - the historic word is “rabble” - are inherently anarchic and fully capable of moving in some unpredictable, spasmodic swoop from total passivity to violent kinds of action. Indeed, much of the public rationalization of hierarchy rests upon the presumed need to guard social order against precisely this sort of unthinking “movement.” The fear, however, is inexact and misplaced. The only historical confirmation to this class-based assumption is found in what can be called “shadow movements” - social formations that contain little or no internal dialogue. Such entities are so constructed that self-appointed spokesmen do most or all of the talking. Random social collections of this kind can appear in any society fairly quickly, often on the spur of the moment, as it were. In their most extreme and irrational forms, such collectivities (they are not, as shall become evident, “social movements”) have two pronounced tendencies: they can kill (in America, the historically relevant word is “lynch”) and they generally exist in public only briefly before they dissolve.
The political distinction between “spontaneous” conduct and democratic conduct is most vividly evident in this context. Nothing enduringly democratic is ever spontaneous. Democracy is a dialogue, and to involve numbers of people, democratic forms must be fashioned that facilitate and protect such conversation. This is why those movements of democratic aspiration that have appeared throughout history have been - without exception - built by conscious action; they are never “spontaneous.” That word has acquired wide application because it offers an explanation of historical causation that otherwise appears (because it was not inquired into) inexplicable.
(302) Under Solidarnosc’s bylaws, dues money was not only collected locally but funds also remained under local control so that the servants of Solidarnosc were structurally encouraged toward loyalty to the movement’s grass roots. As a capstone of this self-organized institutional panoply, the movement launched a veritable fleet of local and regional newspapers, journals, and newsletters.
(336) Psychologically, if not in all other ways, Solidarnosc defeated the Polish party in the martial-law years.
(337) Less discernible than the movement’s persistence or Walesa’s continuing political relevance was the status of Solidarnosc’s underlying capacity for democratic cohesion. The long years of economic privation and political humiliation were a terrible strain on popular morale. The fact was totally understandable. Indeed, the wonder was that Poles stood up as well as they did. Nevertheless, successful popular democratic politics necessarily requires - to remain democratic - enduring popular patience. It also requires generosity toward others - of the kind skilled industrial workers had demonstrated in 1980-81 in forgoing pay rises for themselves to ensure increases for less-skilled workers living on the edge of survival. The long agony of martial law put almost unbearable pressure upon this social ethos - upon the very idea of egalitarian generosity.
NB: credit sharing of Populists.
(338) The appearance in 1989 of widespread democratic institutional forms in the Soviet sphere emerged out of a central precondition: the structural breakdown of the Leninist system of production. That these institutional forms first appeared where they did - in a shipyard on the Baltic coast of Poland in 1980 - was the the product of thirty-five years of effort that collectively produced for workers the specific instruments of social self-organizaton: the occupation strike capped by an interfactory strike committee possessing the strategic goal of achieving protected public space independent of the ruling party.
(346) It is quite possible that Walesa, remembering the strident voices on the national commission calling for “confrontation” with the party in November-December 1981, had simply lost confidence in that body. If so, that is something democrats can never do - and remain democratic. One lives within the polity, or one does not live democratically at all. It is a political principle that dates at least from Socrates.
(356) But the sustained study of social movement does uncover one recurring rhythm. The necessary predicate exists in the relationship of established systems of governance to the earlier revolutions that first brought them to power: the structural components of all existing regimes have their origins in the internal social relations and theories of politics at work in the insurgent movement that originally installed that system of governance. This relationship holds true whether “the revolution” happened last year or last century. This dynamic produces the following projection: it is unreasonable to expect any regime in power to behave in ways that are more democratic than were visible in the internal social relations within the movement that brought that regime to power. In twenty-five years of study of social movements, I have encountered no historical exceptions to this causal relationship. Rather, the historical evidence is compelling that revolutionary movements, once in power (whether for ten years or for two hundred), fashion modes of governance that over time become more hierarchical and less internally democratic. Only the appearance of another insurgent movement seems to offer the prospect of altering this pervasive historical tendency.
……The centralization of decision making in ever fewer hands - the evolution of elite forms - is described in terms of efficiency, not in terms of heightened centralization. However characterized, the evolution toward hierarchy has been a constant of modern life ever since industrialization began to alter mankind’s social relations in transcendent ways some eight generations ago.
(358) What the experience of Solidarnosc offers the world is compelling evidence that human capabilities in the sphere of democratic imagination and democratic performance can, on occasion, outpace sanctioned standards of “reasonable” expectation. Solidarnosc provides historically compelling evidence that people can perform more democratically than they have been told to expect they can - and more, accordingly, than they themselves believed they could. And they have done so over interestingly extended periods of time.
(363) There must be a means for the movement’s most experienced activists to convey their experiential knowledge to its least experienced rank-and-file member...
Finally, beyond reasons of defensive and offensive strategy, internal communications are necessary as a structural verification that the movement is what it says it is - a collective assertion for greater democracy in which the lines of conversation run both ways, not only downward from leaders to rank and file but also upward as a means of holding leaders accountable.
(376) Though the occupation strike was the most potentially powerful and certainly the most dramatic weapon available to a highly organized local union and, thus, constituted the ultimate assertion of a plant-sized worker council, it was a prewar weapon that had applicability only under capitalism. Such a strike in one plant potentially could bring one boss to the bargaining table. But how to strike against the state?
(380-381) Unfortunately, the thought that KOR or anyone else can in such a manner “prepare the consciousness of the workers for the strikes” is grounded in the intellectual illusion that insurgency fails to occur in society because people do not understand that they are oppressed and therefore require some authority to instruct them in this regard. The problem for opposition organizers does not turn on this circumstance at all. Aggrieved people know they have grievances; their problem is that they do not have a clear idea of what to do about their condition or are reluctant to try possible remedies for fear of a retaliation from authority that will leave them in an even poorer condition. While the failure of aggrieved people to protest can be judged (when viewed from afar) as a sign of “apathy,” in reality it is simply a fairly coherent belief as to the predictable outcome embedded in real power imbalances. In essence, their caution is reasonable.
(384) Thomas Jefferson had once said, “A great deal of knowledge about the revolution is not on paper, but only within ourselves.” Jefferson said this more than a quarter of a century after the American Revolution. In specific historical detail, this particular kind of experiential knowledge about the American Revolution is still “not on paper.”
(385) In ways that are, to say the least, not broadly understood as part of the received tradition of “the politics of protest,” the focus of the militants tends to center upon the logic of spoken and written exhortation. Since industrialization began to engulf the world some eight generations ago, an enormous amount of desperate energy has been channeled into this programmatic cul-de-sac...
Their seminal error lies in the exhortatory premise - that social knowledge is essentially purely intellectual and thus can be conveyed in the form of argumentatively creative advisories to the population. Unfortunately, social knowledge cannot be conveyed through mere reflection; what people, all people, necessarily require is an opportunity to participate in experience. Democratic conduct, like hierarchical conduct, is experientially learned and tested.
(388) The idea of a self-managing economy in a self-managing republic, explored briefly but with intensity during the summer of 1981, will not go away - not in the spacious time frame to which historians are habituated. For this reason, the ultimate geopolitical consequences of the Polish achievement, for the West as well as for the East, are not yet evident.
(447) Roman Laba, _The Roots of Solidarity_
(452) The larger point is that the social rhythms of August on the coast subsequently coursed through all of Poland, ultimately engendering such a sense of self among the citizenry that movement activists were pressed into “fire fighting.”
NB: “sense of self” as citizens and workers absent in US