Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Solidarnošč 1980: How (some of) Solidarity Saw It

It was 35 years ago that events in Poland, hitting the world headlines, were giving hope and encouragement to many on the anti-authoritarian left. In London, members of the Solidarity group – including Chris Pallis, as noted previously – were among those who reacted most promptly and positively. [This was not a ‘party line’, however: some people associated with the group took a less sanguine view, at the time or with hindsight. One later recalled, “in 1980-1 over the Polish strikes … an understandable but rather desperate desire to whistle in the dark led us all to overlook the deeply reactionary aspects (in retrospect, these were the most important aspects) of Solidarnosc.” For others, the most important aspect was that such a movement should have got under way at all after so many years of repression in all areas of life.]
A demonstration marked the first anniversary of the imposition of martial law
The article reproduced here appeared (p.S16) in a 24-page Supplement, ‘Summer in Gdansk’, included in the magazine Solidarity for Social Revolution, no. 14, Oct.-Nov. 1980, pp.S1-S24, and also distributed separately.          


A meeting was held at the Conway Hall, on Tuesday August 26, to discuss events in Poland. It was called under the auspices of the London Solidarity group, in cooperation with other tendencies and individuals. The widespread interest aroused by the Polish workers’ struggle was shown by the numbers who attended, in the holiday season and at very short notice. The Small Hall was packed to the door, standing room only. At the end of three hours we went away feeling that something had been achieved: the setting up of a Polish Solidarity Committee; planned intervention at TUC Conference with the aim of stopping the proposed delegation of fraternal bureaucrats; and the sending of two telegrams, one expressing solidarity with the strikers through B [initial only given] in Paris, and one to the Polish government supporting the workers’ call for the establishment of free trade unions.
Success, then? To a considerable extent, certainly, and well worth doing. But there were some dissenting voices (as readers of Freedom may have noted) and criticisms which are worth considering. It could all, perhaps, have been done better, and there may be some lessons for future occasions.
For a start, like an earlier meeting we held in the same place (on the anniversary of Kronstadt) this one was traditionally structured: platform of speakers and chairman behind a table complete with jugs of water, etc., facing the rest of us, the audience. Without claiming (cf. World Revolution) that we only have to sit round in a circle, séance-like, to invoke the true spirit of libertarian revolution, it is worth noting that this non-Solidarity style of meeting accentuated one of the worst mistakes of the evening: the fact that it looked like the presentation of a ‘united front’ from the platform, instead of a forum open for discussion of different views.
This is important because some of the views presented differed widely from ours: there was one speaker from Solidarity, Terry Liddle; an anarchist, Philip Samson; and two Poles. One [of the Poles] was an ex-Labour councillor (in close contact with the KOR [Workers’ Defence Committee] and its publications in Polish) who gave an interesting factual description of current events, the other a member of the Polish Socialist Party in exile, affiliated to the Second International, who went on about what he had said to Willy Brandt the last time they met. If the traditional structure of the meeting was inevitable, all the more care should have been taken to emphasise the open, un-‘fixed’ nature of the set-up – the organisers had not met all the speakers and certainly did not know what they would be saying. (Those who think that meetings should only be held if the organisers do know who will be there – and what they will be saying – should say so explicitly.)
By the time the collection was taken, and the gist of the proposed telegram(s) mooted, time for discussion from the floor was limited to just under an hour, so that the chairman had to be firm in trying to ensure a maximum number and variety of contributions. Nevertheless the adverb ‘ruthlessly’, applied to the chairing by Freedom’s correspondent, is not inappropriate. This appeared to some extent in the debate, although quite a number of opposing views were heard. It became more obvious when the final wording of the telegrams was discussed. There was no chance to do this properly, the formula ‘supporting the struggle for free trade unions’ being taken to express the feeling of the meeting. A proposed amendment, from the only Solidarity member to speak from the floor, that the words ‘independent class organisations’ replace the words ‘free trade unions’ was not accepted. And it was only thanks to a quick-thinking and persistent anarchist that ‘All power to the workers’ was added at the  end of the first telegram, thus differentiating us from the wide range of right-wingers and social democrats currently professing solidarity with the  Poles, and suggesting that our aim was not the sort of trade unions prevailing in the West.
So we can observe, once again, that participation in any sort of united front or concerted action with other tendencies requires extra care in clarifying, not blurring, our particular views. Otherwise the dominant ideology prevails by default, and we find ourselves being used for ends we do not support – and ultimately playing false to those we do. 

But whatever our self-criticisms about failures of perfect libertarian practice, we can console ourselves with the thought that it could have been worse. This was demonstrated by the SWP meeting on the same subject three nights later, attended by a few of us armed with leaflets, doing a ‘World Revolution’ (needless to say, WR were also there, doing the genuine thing!). One of us even stayed until near the end.
After a cheering cock-up at the beginning over what time it was due to start (Socialist Worker had said 9 p.m., Time Out 8 p.m., so they made it 8.30) the meeting (smaller than ours) swung into the familiar routine: two quite lengthy speeches, the first more narrative in style, the second giving the line; collection (Let’s not hear the clatter of coins, comrades, nor yet the rustle of paper, but the squeak of pens writing substantial cheques); questions from the floor to the platform, answered in batches for added glibness; and final summings-up with exhortations to build the revolutionary party (at this point our reporter made no excuse and left). Of course experienced questioners took the opportunity to put a few points across. The lad from World Revolution did his stuff, about the counter-revolutionary nature of all unions, and two people involved in the [newly formed] Polish Solidarity Campaign gave some information about it and asked for a statement of the SWP position. The answer was that the SWP supported the ‘existing rank-and-file trade union movement of solidarity with the Polish workers’ and would not ally itself with the right wing in the unions by calling for withdrawal of the [TUC] delegation. The SWP evidently preferred, even at this time, to maintain its alliance with the stalinists on the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions.
 L. W. and M. B.

Participants’ history of PSC
(Giles Hart, who edited the booklet, died on 7 July 2005, a victim of the London Bombings)

Other analyses are available...
A couple of titles for further reading:
Peter Raina, Political Opposition in Poland. London, Poets’ and Painters’ Press, 1978. 
            Marjorie Castle and Ray Taras, Democracy in Poland, Westview Press, 2nd edition 2002.

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