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 Troops were withdrawn from the main cities and officials everywhere tried to persuade strikers to return to work.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
Two features of the confrontation in Szczecin above all stand out. The first is the elemental directness and power of the class consciousness of the shipyard workers, face to face with their political bosses. They speak, through-out, as proletarians—proudly assertive of their class membership and bitterly aware of the travesty practiced by a ruling system which constantly invokes their power in order the better to render them powerless. Their testimony reveals the condition of the working class in Poland today. The delegates from the workshops who address the meeting combine and integrate both economic and political demands. First of all, there is a unanimous insistence that the price rises must be cancelled. Their impact on working-class homes emerges brutally from the stark wage-levels of the panel-beaters, welders, varnishers and others of the Warski yard. The delegates denounce, with no less vehemence, the atrocious work-conditions on the hulls—where safety is minimal—and the general lack of the simplest hygienic facilities which they have to endure. Retirement ages are too high; overtime is too long. Moreover, and above all, the managerial and office strata reap vastly superior incomes, funnel their children into the best positions in the educational system, and enjoy dictatorial power in the factories. Fundamental egalitarian demands for the abolition of the material privileges of managers and bureaucrats have never been voiced so clearly and vibrantly by workers since the early twenties in Russia. The Szczecin proletariat, through its yard delegates, demonstrates a firm and blunt awareness that these privileges tend to create a new class stratification based ultimately on the division between intellectual and manual labour. Again and again, they point out that it is the surplus produced by their sweat that finances the luxuries of the directors, and the weapons of the militia, who tyrannize over them. Thus their economic demands are indissolubly linked to political aims, which necessarily encompass the whole nature of the Polish State. The workers, first and foremost, call for an end to bureaucratic mendacity and manipulation of the communications system: they demand free information as a basic right of any socialist society. (The constant and central repetition of this demand in the Warski yards fully confirms the Czech oppositionist Pelikan’s insistence, in his recent interview in NLR 71, that abolition of censorship is by no means just an ‘intellectual’s’ slogan in Eastern Europe, but expresses a vital need of every worker). Next, they call for the dismantling of the hated police corps whose prime function is to terrorize and intimidate the masses, to deter them from any open protest about their condition. Lastly, they seek genuinely democratic elections throughout the Party, State and Trade Unions—in other words, a complete overturn of the whole authoritarian pyramid of command which rules Poland today. The Eastern European proletariat has never spoken a clearer class language than in this spontaneous programme for its own liberation.
Confronted with these demands, how do the bureaucratic dignitaries of Party and State react? The second striking feature of the transcript lies
The working-class upsurge in Poland did not end with the strikes in the Baltic ports. Soon afterwards, the metal-workers in Lodz and other central manufacturing towns—predominantly women—downed tools: and in the face of this new unrest, the Gierek administration was forced to grant in March what it had refused the Szczecin workers in January—the official cancellation of the price increases. Since then, a precarious calm has returned to Poland. But there can be no doubt of the unfolding logic and direction of the successive upheavals in Eastern Europe. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956, of which the proletariat was the main social force, was still in form predominantly a national revolt