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New Left Review I/72, March-April 1972

New Left Review

Polish Document—Presentation

The document printed below is a shortened and condensed transcript of a meeting in the Adolf Warski shipyard of the Polish port of Szczecin, held on 25 January 1971 between the leadership of the Polish Communist Party (puwp) and the mass of workers in the yards, then on strike for over a month. The dramatic background to this confrontation was the proletarian rising which had just broken out in the Baltic ports and had brought down Gomulka. On 13 December 1971, a wide range of price increases in basic necessities for working-class households (food, coal, shoes) was decreed by the Gomulka government, combined with price cuts in consumer durables (tape-recorders, car radios, televisions) bought mainly by managerial and other privileged professional groups in Poland. This social provocation detonated an immediate explosion of popular rage. On 14 December, there was a full-scale workers’ insurrection in Gdansk, which culminated in the sacking of the local Party headquarters amidst a generalized shut-down of production. On 17 December, the revolt spread to Szczecin, on 19 December to Elblag. Thousands of workers marched in the streets in all these cities, striking and demonstrating against the price increases and those who had decreed them. Gomulka’s response was to order the army and police to suppress the rising at gun-point. Tanks, armoured cars and riot troops were rushed into the Baltic towns, and hundreds of workers were mown down by machine-gun fire from tank-turrets and police-units in Gdansk. This sanguinary repression did not halt the revolt: it rapidly became evident that it threatened to widen into an unstoppable national upheaval. Confronted with this danger, Gomulka and his personal coterie were forced to resign by the Politbureau on 20 December. The new administration led by Gierek promptly disavowed Gomulka and promised concessions and reforms to bring the movement in the Baltic to an end. Troops were withdrawn from the main cities and officials everywhere tried to persuade strikers to return to work. However, the Baltic proletariat proved much more resistant than the regime—having made a token retreat—expected. Throughout the month of January, key factories and yards in the ports remained closed, workers refusing to go back until their demands for cancellation of the price increases was met. It was in this situation that, on 25 January, Gierek—flanked by a revealing entourage of functionaries, including not only his Prime Minister (Jaroszewicz), but also the Ministers of the Interior (Szlachcic) and Defence (Jaruzelski)—flew into Szczecin to try and stop the strike by personal pleas to the shipyard workers there, who had insisted on a direct confrontation with the Party leadership. The tumultuous exchanges in the assembly of the Adolf Warski yards, printed below, were the outcome.

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