Polish Solidarity The Solidarity Movement in Poland The 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 Power The 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. …