WE LIVE in a weird world.
Frank Chapple, the trade union leader who took his place in the House of Lords two weeks ago, had been aptly rewarded by Mrs Thatcher for his bitter opposition to the miners' strike. Yet Lord Chapple has been a loud supporter of Solidarnosc, the independent Polish trade union movement, while some of the best militant miners treat it with suspicion, and many with hostility.
The paradox of Solidarnosc was summed up by one of its supporters interviewed in 'The Road to Gdansk' *(Channel 4, February 11). Millions of Polish workers were on the streets carrying pictures of the Pope and the Virgin Mary. They were in fact left wing.
They were demonstrating against an authoritarian government which uses 'left' slogans and bits of Marxist jargon, but is in fact right wing
'The Road to Gdansk' tried to unearth the roots of Solidarnosc in Polish history.
Destroyed as an independent state 200 years ago, and partitioned between Russia, Austria, and Prussia, Poland re-emerged after World War I as a buffer between Bolshevik Russia and Germany.
21 years later, in 1939, Poland was again wiped off the map. This time it was partitioned between the Nazis, invading from the west, and Stalin's army invading from the east.
Treating the Poles as subhumans fit only to be Germany's slaves, the Nazis killed five million of them. Stalin deported to Siberia one and a half million of the five million Poles living in the territory he grabbed. (The rest of the 13 million population were Ukrainians and White Russians). Some of those deported only returned to Poland in the late '50s, and many died.
But then the USSR won its war against Hitler, and in 1944 occupied Poland. A Polish state (with greatly altered borders) was restored. But it was a Poland under the complete control of the USSR. ..
The USSR began to shape and change Polish society, remaking it in its own image wipmg out the landlord and capitalist classes. By 1948 Poland's economic structure was identical to the USSR's.
What about the working class'? fhe interational working class movement had a long tradition of active support for Poland's right to indepenience. The Polish workers had a fine record of socialist struggle, and a distinct Marxist tradition of their own, most eminently embodied in Rosa Luxemburg. A small but vigorous Polish communist movement existed in the 1 920s and '30s.
But the Polish Communist movement was wipcd out in 1938. Stalin's Comintern condemned the Polish CP as incurably infected with Luxemburgism and Trotskyism, and dissolved it. Its
members were denounced to the military dictatorship that then ruled Poland.
When the Nazi-USSR war started, there was no CP. So one was hastily cobbled together. Some of its key people were released from Stalin's jails. This party was hoisted into power by the USSR after the war.
Independent working class activity played little part in the social 'revolution from above' carried out by Stalin's army of occupation in Poland, Nevertheless, the Stalinist regime's rapid industrialisation policy massively augmented the working class.
The hulk ol the Polish working class is no more than two generations removed from peasant life. But it has done great and tremendous things in that short span.
In 1956, 1970, 1976, and then in 1980, the Polish workers rose against the system of state dictatorship imposed on them when Stalin's army chased out Hitler's 40 years ago.
In 1956, the Polish workers organised workers' councils which challenged the Stalinist system and helped loosen its iron grip. In 1970 the Gdansk shipyard workers responded to attempts to cut their living standards with attacks on police barracks and on the headquarters of the so-called 'Communist' Party. An unkr.own number of workers were shot down but they toppled the government.and extracted promises of reform.
A lesser protest movement in 1976 forced the government to abandon plans to raise food prices,
And then in l98O, the Polish working class did in a matter of months, what no one had ever done before.
They organised a mass working~lass movement in a Stalinist state, and after a month of mass strikes forced the Stalinist government to grant them the right to free trade unions and the right to strike. No Stalinist state had ever granted such rights before.
In August 1980, Solidarnosc mushroomed into life. Within a few months it had ten million members. It won the right to organise while all opposition political parties were banned. So inevitably it took on the role of an-opposition party.
In 1980 the Polish workers wanted to destroy the Stalinist system. Why didn't they?
Because of the fear of a Russian invasion, which would be a certainty if the government were overthrown. Poland had came within a hair's breadth of a full-scale Russian invasion in 1956, at the time of the bloody invasion of Hungary.
So, instead of overthrowing the government, or the system, the ten-million strong movement tried to live within the system as a movement of political reform and pressure, which was also a trade union.
The authorities bided their time and made their preparations. Just after a conference of Solidarnosc had demanded a plebiscite to determine whether or not there should be free elections, in December 1981, they struck. Martial law was declared, Solidarnosc was banned, its key militants were interned.
'The Road to Gdansk' allowed Solidarnosc activists to speak and give an account of themselves. It also gave much space to official Polish government representatives.
The 'independent' film producers who made it, in 1983, seem to have had the co-operation of the Polish state. The 'editorial line' and general framework was that of the Morning Star or Marxism Today.
For example, the account of the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939 was crassly Stalinist. Rebuffed by France and Britain, the film said, Stalin had no option but to do a deal with Hitler. He only invaded Poland in the east two weeks after Hitler attacked in the west, and after the back of the Polish army was broken...
No international context was given for the Polish events of the '40s and 'SOs. There was no mention of Poland's basic problem, that it is not independent. The programme ended on a note set by a Polish government representatives -- things will get better in the future, once the economy is sorted out. And so on.
That aspect was very disappointing, though the subject of the film, and much of the footage, was fascinating.
The Polish workers are still struggling in the underground to sustain and rebuild an independent labour movement, cherishing the old traditions of the Polish working class and labour movement which they rediscovered in 1 980.
It is time the workers' movement in the west unearthed our old attitude to Poland, going back to Karl Marx and the first Workers' International, which took as one of its central demands the call for the independence of Poland.
In the world today there is, arguably, no more important workers' movement than that which struggles to survive under the heel of Poland's Stalinist dictatorship .
*"The Road to Gdansk", Feb 11, 1985 Ch 4