Monday, August 27, 2018

Poland: The Ultimate Sanction (1982)

From the February 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

In declaring war on the working class of Poland, General Jaruzelski played his only trump card. His coup was prepared months in advance. While he and other politicians like Deputy Prime Minister Rakowski deceived workers, negotiated with Solidarity and even pretended to welcome the wind of change, secret contingency plans were being made to restore the status quo.

With hindsight and a little belated help from NATO and the prostitute press, we can pick up various clues to this plan. After Jaruzelski, the Defence Minister, became Prime Minister last February, the Russians set up a military communications network which, after testing, lay dormant until December. Manoeuvres involved composite regiments of Poles and Russians, enabling assessment of the loyalty of each officer. After the Polish United Workers Party (PUWP) Congress, Jaruzelski held a meeting of senior officers to discuss the tactics they would use if the situation deteriorated, and in September martial law proclamations in Polish were printed in Russia. [1] Within a week of General Jaruzelski becoming First Secretary of the Party, he sent “local operational groups” of the Army into towns and villages all over Poland, able to report on local officials and Solidarity activists, and ready for the take-over of local government in “phase two” of this operation in December. On December 2 riot police and helicopters attacked the striking fire brigade cadets. The General had crossed his Rubicon: war had started. The endless talks and negotiations were over. The Gdansk Agreement was in shreds.

History has repeated itself. We are reminded, in snow, ice and famine, of Kronstadt. In February 1921 Petrograd workers struck and soon gained the support of the Kronstadt sailors; Their demands were for free elections with a secret ballot, freedom of speech, press and assembly, freedom for trade union and peasant organisations, workers’ control, the release of political prisoners and the equalisation of rations. No deal, said their Bolshevik bosses: “You are surrounded on all sides . . . Kronstadt has neither bread nor fuel. IF YOU INSIST, WE WILL SHOOT YOU LIKE PARTRIDGES.” Trotsky announced: “I am . . . giving orders that everything be prepared to smash the revolt and the rebels by force of arms.” [2] And Kronstadt was crushed.

This was done again whenever and wherever workers under Bolshevik rule dared to protest, to demonstrate or to organise against intolerable conditions. At Novocherkassk in 1962, tanks and dumdum bullets were used against unarmed men, women and children. [3] There have been many Peterloo Massacres in Russia’s vast empire, demonstrating clearly that this is a dictatorship over the proletariat. It has nothing to do with socialism. State capitalism means exploitation of workers through the wages system.

The face of counter-revolution
To justify their brutal repression, the rulers use smear tactics. Always, apparently, workers are the villains. In 1921 it was alleged by Radio Moscow: “It is clear that the Kronstadt revolt is being led from Paris. The French counterespionage is mixed up in the whole affair’’. [4]

Allegations that Solidarity was dominated by “anti-socialist” elements have been repeated, ad nauseam in the last 18 months by Moscow and the PUWP stooges. In September these accusations reached a frenzied pitch: “SOLIDARITY SHOWS ITS TRUE FACE: The first stage of Solidarity’s Gdansk congress turned into a (sic) anti-socialist and anti-Soviet gathering”. Later, a headline yelled “Solidarity? No! Counter-revolution”. [5] Beneath Jaruzelski’s statement on the imposition of martial law, the kidnapping and internment of thousands of workers (the official figure is that now, nearly a month after the coup, 5,000 are still interned, incommunicado), which he described as “a prophylactic internment of a group of persons threatening the security of the state”, Soviet Weekly headlined another analysis, “the face of counterrevolution”. [5]

Deputy Prime Minister Rakowski—supposed to favour reforms—alleged: “There is within Solidarity a very strong tendency aiming at a takeover of power”. [6]

But was Solidarity guilty? Much effort went into trying to scrape up evidence for the “counter-revolution” charge. The Chief Prosecutor’s instructions “on the present methods of prosecution of illegal anti-socialist activity” (30/10/80) were described as aiming “to show that the emergence of independent trade unions is a direct result of all ‘anti-socialist’ activity”. Yet in it we find that what evidence had been found amounted to little more than suspicion and the possession or publication of uncensored documents. [7]

It is worth noting that at the beginning of September 1980 a poll held by the PUWP’s official journal Polityka (editor’ M. Rakowski), showed that less than 1 per cent of the sample thought that “anti-socialist” or “anarchic” groups had been the cause of strikes.[8] A year later, Communist Bert Ramelson argued that Polish representatives in their speeches “stressed precisely the fact of the genuinely spontaneous and understandable eruption of the movement of discontent, and minimised as of not great significance the existence of indigenous or foreign provocative elements in it”. [9]

The military coup was not the result of foreign agents manipulating Solidarity’s ten million members for sinister political purposes. It was the inevitable result of the continued stalemate between the Party and Solidarity, the ever-worsening economic crisis and the ruling √©lite’s determination to crush Solidarity.

Solidarity—strikes and splits
The economic crisis that Poland was in before the Gdansk Agreement was not eased by economic and political complications which followed. The worsening shortages of raw materials and spare parts were now blamed on Solidarity’s strikes. A strike in one enterprise can disrupt production elsewhere with a “knock-on” effect. Inevitably, there were many strikes.

The workers expected the government to implement the Gdansk Agreement while the government had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort, expecting that in time the union would be weakened by splits and could then be simply slowly broken up. The government’s delaying tactics and occasional provocations led to frustration among union members, many of whom became increasingly militant. By last September, Solidarity was thoroughly divided between militants and moderates. The government’s stalling led the frustrated unionists to make political demands: free elections to the Sejm and local councils, and “self-management councils” in the factories. [10]

Meanwhile the government was caught between the hammer of workers’ demands and the anvil of Kremlin orthodoxy. Solidarity negotiators were never sure what line the government would take: one day the sun shone and talk was of “renewal”, next day the wind blew from Siberia and negotiations were back to square one.

Illustration by George Meddemmen.
Solidarity members may well have been uneasy when they realised that talks about “economic reforms” actually meant closing unprofitable enterprises and making workers unemployed. Anxiety about growing unemployment weakened Solidarity. The union was becoming increasingly involved in the decision-making process. This is always a mistake for a union: to remain united, trade unions should concentrate only on representing workers’ interests in the industrial field.
Disunity in Solidarity weakened it. So did disillusionment. In many cases, Solidarity could not deliver the goods, as expected. The never-ending strikes led also to a decline in popular sympathy for Solidarity while its leaders were at times pilloried as irresponsible extremists.

The Party could not take advantage of Solidarity’s splits since it no longer played a “leading role”; it too was split. Many of its members resigned in 1980, many joined Solidarity, while others demanded political and economic reforms. Hardliners were discredited by the exposure of corruption and privilege, or demoralised by the economic crisis and lack of popular support. “In Poland now, if you had an election to the Sejm (parliament), an anti-communist front would have the upper hand”, admitted Rakowski. [11]

Splits in the disintegrating Party and a quick-fire succession of Prime Ministers were evidence of Poland's impossible political problems.

In these circumstances, rather than pursue economic and political reforms, Jaruzelski decided to copy Lenin. In the total collapse of the economy, with the prospect that by February there would not even be bread in the shops, and industry would be in a shambles, he may have glimpsed a picture of Russia in February 1920. Lenin then announced that in order to get industry going again and provide food for the workers, “we must concentrate all our efforts on this task . . . It has to be solved by military methods, with absolute ruthlessness, and by the absolute suppression of all other interests”. [12]

But Jaruzelski was more realistic when he admitted that “in the long term not a single Polish problem can be solved by violence”. [13] The situation now is that while the working class has been terrorised into apparent submission, and some production is going on, industry is hampered by the closing of telephone lines, the fuel shortage, the blacklisting of workers who refuse to sign the government’s loyalty pledge and, even more, by the workers’ bitterness. There are rumours of “Italian strikes”, where workers go to work but do nothing unless constantly prodded.

If any one thing could have been done to reunite the workers and restore their support for Solidarity, Jaruzelski did it. The idea behind Solidarity—that workers need to defend themselves against the powers-that-be—can only be reinforced by this unsubtle, military approach to industrial relations.

Unions and state power
Most of Solidarity’s demands required legislation but Solidarity had no political power. They could not even enforce the implementation of one of their most basic demands: there has been no change in the law on trade unions, only a succession of unsatisfactory drafts. Political power was needed to put into effect the demands conceded on paper in August 1980.

Socialists have argued for years that the control of the state machine cannot be achieved by strikes, general strikes or insurrection. General Jaruzelski has made clear to workers everywhere that he who controls the state machine is able to use it against the working class. This may be a policy of last-resort but it is effective, even when the workers are well-organised nationwide. The argument that “they can’t lock us all up” is unrealistic. They did not need to lock up all Solidarity supporters. Threats and intimidation are powerful weapons. The banning of communications—radio, TV and press under strict control, all letters censored, phone lines cut, no travelling permitted—can effectively hamper any organised or united resistance, at least for a while. The “loyalty pledge” tactic will effectively blacklist all active supporters of Solidarity and inhibit the beginning of any future opposition groups.

Solidarity had no choice but to go underground again. But there will be other movements in the future. We hope they will recognise the absolute necessity of gaining political power to prevent the machinery of government, including the security apparatus and the armed forces, being used against them. Engels wrote that “something more is needed than trade unions and strikes to break the power of the ruling class”. [14] To organise only on the industrial field is to fight with one hand tied behind you.

Solidarity made other mistakes characteristic of trade unions here. They let themselves be drawn into policy-making, administrative and management questions. Talks with government ministers about economic reforms may do a lot for the vanity of people who like to see their names in the papers but they split the movement and divert attention from its real purpose the defence of workers’ interests. They also failed to realise that the strike weapon is a feeble one in a recession. They were too easily taken in by appeals to patriotic sentiment.

The best foundation for a trade union organisation is the support of class conscious workers, aware that their interests are fundamentally opposed to those of the ruling or employing class, and that within a class-divided society there can be no such thing as a “national interest". When Polish and other workers reach that stage, they will be capable of building a stronger movement, more democratically organised, without leaders, rejecting religion and patriotism, conscious of the need for political power: “every class-struggle is a political one. Whosoever repudiates the political struggle, by this very act gives up all part and lot in the class struggle". [15] Such a movement will have no time for most of the Gdansk “21 Demands": it will not be reformist. Unlike Solidarity its aims will not be “to attempt to bring the workers’ interests into harmony with the functioning of the enterprise" or “to cultivate an active attitude among workers for the good of the country and of all workers’’. [16] It will aim only to abolish the wages system and be fully conscious of the need to organise politically to that end.
Charmian Skelton

[1.] Financial Times, 29 Dec. '81; Sunday Times, 20 Dec. ’81.
[2.] The Kronstadt Uprising by Ida Mctt.
[3.] Workers Against the Gulag, Pluto Press, 1979.
[4.] As 2, above.
[5.] Soviet Weekly, 19 Sept. ’81; 28 Nov. ’81; 19- 26 Dec. ’81.
[6.] Interview in Marxism Today, Oct. ’81.
[7.] Full text in Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, spring-autumn 1980. quoted in Socialist Standard, Nov. ’81.
[8.] The Polish August by Neal Ascherson, Penguin 1981, p. 181n.
[9.] Marxism Today, July ’81.
[10.] Solidarity Congress declaration, 10 Sept. ’81, quoted from Socialist Challenge, 24 Sept. ’81.
[11.] Interview in Marxism Today, Oct. ’81.
[12.] Quoted from An Economic History of the Soviet Union, by Alec Nove.
[13.] Soviet Weekly, 19-26 Dec. ’81.
[14.] Engels, Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844.
[15.] Plekhanov, Anarchism and Socialism.
[16.] Solidarity Draft Statutes, Solidarnosc Strike Bulletin, 31 Aug. ’80 (Labour Focus. 1980).

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

That's the February 1982 Socialist Standard done and dusted.