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New Left Review I/125, January-February 1981

Tamara Deutscher

Poland—Hopes and Fears

‘Nobody can say yet whether this year will enterhistory as the year of the victory of the socialistmodel of liberty . . . or as that of a new collapse.’Zycie Warszawy, 6 December 1980

The tremors that shook Poland during the ‘hot’ summer of 1980 precipitated an autumn full of tensions, hard bargaining, trials of strength, strikes and compromises. At the impressive and extraordinary ceremony at Gdansk on the 16th of December, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the shooting of shipyard workers, the main protagonists in the previous dramas—the new trade union Solidarity, the Church and the government—seemed to have achieved a tentative reconciliation. Nonetheless the way ahead remains unclear and uncertain. There is no question of going back to the old days when the country was ruled by simple fiat of the party hierarchy. If previously every city and town, every industry and every plant was governed by a decree from above, today those issuing decrees must carefully ponder all possible objections which may be raised before they adopt any economic plan, determine the level of productivity, fix wages and prices, or take decisions on educational or cultural policy. Suddenly everything has become arguable and open to debate. The party’s former monopoly over economic policy is now shared with Solidarity, while the Church has extended its access to the media and its privileges within the educational system. The party itself has been shaken by the events and it is unclear if the leadership can restore its dominance within its own apparatus—much less within society at large. The working class that moved to the forefront of the political scene—uncowed, self-confident and conscious of its power versus the employerstate—has shown its unity and determination. In its historic conflict with the State it wrested significant reforms from a party whose leaders seem to have fallen into shock at the sight of the big battalions facing them. The workers maintained the initiative throughout the contest and the response to their demands was surprisingly quick, without prolonged bureaucratic haggling; even, here and there, tinged with a stealthy admiration. The fear that the concessions granted may be ‘eroded’—to use a fashionable word—is not without foundation. But even more ‘eroded’ has been the authority of a party which emerges out of each successive contest more shaken and in deeper crisis.

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Tamara Deutscher, ‘Poland--Hopes and Fears’, NLR I/125: £3

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