What has characterized the situation in Poland over the past year is not so much the country’s grave economic crisis as the increasingly clearer manifestations of the resistance of society against the arbitrary behavior of the authorities. Having arisen and developed from different roots, this resistance is gradually taking on the forms of a genuine opposition movement.
For a period of time which began in December 1975, thousands of people put their names to petitions against proposed amendments to the Polish constitution, whose purpose had been to give formal and binding recognition to one-party rule and to Poland’s dependence on the Soviet Union. The force of these protests forced the authorities to make part concessions: the proposed amendments were either toned down or abandoned altogether.
In June 1976 a wave of workers’ strikes, demonstrations, and riots broke out when an attempt was made to impose a drastic increase in food prices without, in effect, any prior consultation. It was a reaction of anger and desperation, caused not just by the considerable drop in real wages—particularly for those in the lower income bracket—but also by the blatant lies of the official propaganda apparatus which once again demonstrated the contempt with which those in power treat the opinion of society at large.
Although on the next day after their announcement, the increases were withdrawn in a panic, those two days in June sufficed to bring into the open the inability of the authorities to solve crucial economic and social problems. In a situation where all groups and strata of society—the workers, the intelligentsia, the peasants, the Church—not only have no political or professional representation, but are not even given an opportunity to voice their aspirations and demands, normal channels of communication, dialogue, negotiation and settlement cease to exist: it has repeatedly been shown that the authorities give way only to direct, desperate action. Such a situation is fraught with dangers. Lack of freedom, economic inefficiency, manipulation of culture and lack of national independence are all intensely felt in Poland, and this has given rise to a state of crisis which could result in an uncontrolled explosion, and this—if it occurs—may in turn bring about a Soviet invasion.
It is a cause for particular concern in view of this state of affairs that instead of digging down to the roots of the crisis and establishing a more favorable basis for its solution, the authorities have responded to the spontaneous protest of the workers with increased repression: thousands of people have been dismissed from their jobs and deprived of means of existence; long-term prison sentences have been passed on participants of strikes and demonstrations; the police have tortured and cruelly beaten hundreds of people—not sporadically, but in organized form, and not during riots, but in the course of investigation.
In September of this year a Committee for the Defense of the Workers was formed in Warsaw. It consists of twenty people, including well-known writers, lawyers, scientists, and also young intellectuals and students. The…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.