The Solidarity movement in Poland


The Solidarity movement in Poland was one of the most dramatic developments in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. It was not a movement that began in 1980, but rather a continuation of a working class and Polish intelligentsia movement that began in 1956, and continued in two other risings, in 1970 and 1976. The most significant of these risings began in the shipyards of the 'Triple City', Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia in 1970. The first and by far the most violent and bloody of the workers revolts came in June of 1956, when at least 75 people died in the industrial city of Poznan. The third uprising took place in 1976 with workers striking in Warsaw, and rioting in the city of Radom.

What made the Solidarity movement peaceful and far more successful in comparison to that of the previous three? The Solidarity movement originated in the working class, but unlike the previous three risings it also worked with and was involved with the Polish intellectual community. Was this the reason behind its success? Or was it instead the result of the U.S.S.R. losing it's hold in the Eastern bloc, and the fledgling economy of Poland that made such a movement inevitable? While everyone of these points was a factor, the strongest and most compelling argument can be made for the unification and working together of Poland's most influential social classes, the Polish intelligentsia, the workers, and the Church. This strategy eventually led to the infamous 'roundtable' talks, and the collapse of communism itself in Poland.

The Beginnings of a Movement

The 'Polish October' of 1956 did not begin with Stalin's death in 1953, in fact Poland was quite calm, in stark contrast with other Eastern bloc countries. While demonstrations took place in Plzen, Czechoslovakia, and a revolt was taking place in East Germany in mid-June, Poland was slow to follow the 'New Course' that was being offered by neighboring countries. This was a result of a much slower relaxation than the other countries experienced. Regardless, social and intellectual unrest began building up, with collectivization being slackened and censorship showing cracks, the nation had a sense that a new start must be made.

The Polish intelligentsia was one of the most important groups to emerge during this period. The Polish intelligentsia is, and remains, a distinct social class that is composed of those with a higher education, or those who at least share similar tastes. The Polish intelligentsia originates in the nineteenth-century, when Polish nobility moved to the cities to occupy itself with literature, art, and revolutionary politics, due to it's loss of estates and land. This distinct social group was feared and recognized by both Stalin and Hitler, 50 percent of Polish lawyers and doctors and 40 percent of Polish university professors where murdered in World War II. The reemergence of this group leading to the 'Polish October' is significant in that it would play a crucial role 25 years later. Unfortunately for Poland, the Polish intelligentsia and the working class often led separate uprisings, and had trouble connecting in the causes that they were fighting for.

Many events and reasons, many similar to that of 1980 culminated to the uprisings in October, and the crackdown that followed. The focus has to be put primarily on the fact that it was only in part a workers rebellion, because the workers' movement in Poznan had no central structure or leadership. It was instead a rebellion of the intelligentsia, which was in a system that denied them access to the elite. The intelligentsia did not put both movements together, the different social classes were divided in what they wanted. It is incredulous that the intelligentsia did not look to make a concerted effort with the workers, as it would not do in 1970 or 1976.

The New Power

The following events were the prelude to 1980, and they are tragic. On the twelfth of December 1970, a series of unexpected price changes were announced. Consumer goods only rose a small percentage in price, but certain foods had huge price increases. Flour rose by sixteen percent, sugar rose by fourteen percent, and meat cost seventeen percent more. On the next morning three thousand workers from the Lenin shipyard at Gdansk marched on the provincial party headquarters. The workers were ordered back to work, the maddened workers incited a riot. With fires