Poland’s Eternal Return

God's Playground: A History of Poland; Vol. I, The Origins to 1795; Vol. II, 1795 to the Present

by Norman Davies
Columbia University Press, Vol. II, 725 pp., $75.00 complete

A Republic of Nobles: Studies in Polish History to 1864

edited and translated by J.K. Fedorowicz
Cambridge University Press, 290 pp., $37.50

The American and European Revolutions, 1776-1848: Sociopolitical and Ideological Aspects

edited by Jaroslaw Pelenski
University of Iowa Press, 430 pp., $17.50

Philosophy and Romantic Nationalism: The Case of Poland

by Andrzej Walicki
Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), 426 pp., $34.50

Politics in Independent Poland, 1921-1939: The Crisis of Constitutional Government

by Anthony Polonsky
Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), 572 pp., $24.00

Courier From Warsaw

by Jan Nowak, foreward by Zbigniew Brzezinski
Wayne State University Press, 477 pp., $24.95

The Mind of John Paul II: Origins of His Thought and Action

by George H. Williams
Seabury Press, 432 pp., $26.95

Count-Down: The Polish Upheavals of 1956, 1968, 1970, 1976, 1980...

by Jakub Karpinski, translated by Olga Amsterdamska and Gene M. Moore
Karz-Cohl, 214 pp., $29.95

Poland: Genesis of a Revolution

edited by Abraham Brumberg
Random House/Vintage, 324 pp., $20.00; $7.95 (paper)

Solidarity, The Analysis of a Social Movement: Poland 1980-1981

by Alain Touraine and Jan Strzelecki et al., translated by David Denby
Cambridge University Press, 256 pp., $19.95

"Poland Under Jaruzelski"

edited by Leopold Labedz
Survey magazine, $11.00 each number

It is not necessary to hope in order to undertake, nor to succeed in order to persevere.



“Solidarity, the first free labor union in a communist country,” the Western press has begun most commentaries on Poland since the great strike of August 1980. True enough, but by no means the whole truth. During sixteen months in the open, and now twenty months underground, the union Solidarity appeared increasingly in two other guises as well: since its employer was not a mere capitalist but a communist monolith, it inevitably became a movement for the emancipation of all of society from the party-controlled state; and since this regimen was a foreign imposition, it edged toward being a movement of national liberation from Soviet Russia.

All this, of course, could not be declared openly, but it could still be tellingly conveyed through the rich language of Polish symbolism. It was first intimated during August itself in Solidarnosć’s famous emblem, whose jagged letters of red against a white background represented workers marching on strike and carrying the red and white flag of Poland. A more religious message of national death and rebirth was enunciated in the great crosses that the union insisted be erected in Poznan, Gdansk, and Gdynia for the fallen dead of “people’s” Poland between 1956 and 1970. Or as the cabaret ballad that became the anthem of the sixteen months of freedom rousingly proclaimed: “Let Poland be Poland.”

But what is this Poland so fervently invoked on all sides, even by General Jaruzelski, who called his martial law a regime of “national salvation”? Fortunately, a large number of recent books contribute to making “Polishness” accessible to outsiders. The historical perspective of this literature is especially apposite since it contravenes the conventional wisdom about Solidarity expressed in journalistic accounts, concentrating on events since 1980.

The conventional wisdom holds that Solidarity was simply what it said it was: an independent labor movement of the sort that any mature working class would desire. An elaboration of this thesis, which looks no farther back than the last decades, holds that Polish communism, though a debased form of socialism, had nonetheless industrialized a backward society and imbued its new proletariat with the idea that the regime is, or ought to be, a worker’s state. Solidarity was thus merely taking the regime at its word and attempting to realize, at last, its professed ideals.1 This thesis has the merits of simplicity and of attractiveness to foreigners, because workers’ democracy possesses a broad and progressive appeal, whereas it is much more difficult to peddle “Polishness” abroad, because this does, or can, suggest a retrograde and obscurantist parochialism.

The defect of the conventional thesis, however, is that communism brought industrialization everywhere in Eastern Europe, and first of all to Russia, yet nowhere else did there emerge such a widespread and enduring movement for democracy as Solidarity, not even in Hungary or Czechoslovakia—and least of all in Russia. The decisive variable in the…

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