The international dimension of the workers' struggles in Poland
1) In the International Review n.20, we defined the coming decade of the 80s as “the years of truth”, where the outcome of the historical alternative presented by the capitalist crisis would, in large measure, be determined: either world war or proletarian revolution.
This perspective could hardly have been more clearly continued by events during the first year of the decade. The first half of the year, despite important social movements like the steel strike in Great Britain, was dominated by the considerable aggravation of inter-imperialist tension following the invasion of Afghanistan. But the second half of the year was marked by an unprecedented intensification of proletarian struggles, which in Poland reached their highest point since the beginning of the historical resurgence of working class struggle in 1968.
For six months, the bourgeoisie seemed to have a free hand to conduct its warlike campaigns and prepare for a third global holocaust. But today, the anxiety of the ruling class everywhere about the workers’ struggle in Poland, and the unity displayed by the world bourgeoisie in its attempts to dampen down these struggles are another illustration of the fact that the proletariat is the only force in society which has the power to prevent capitalism from unleashing the war which is its only ‘answer’ to the economic crisis.
2) It is not yet the time to draw up a final balance sheet of the proletarian struggles in Poland, since the movement is still in progress and the potential of the current situation is not yet exhausted. However, five months after the start of the struggles, we can already draw out a number of important lessons. In addition it is important to understand how things stand in Poland today.
For the present we want to emphasise two points:
- the enormous importance of this movement, and the considerable step forward it represents for the proletariat of every country.
— the fact that the struggles in Poland, and the lessons of the struggle, can only be understood within an international context.
3) Everywhere, the bourgeoisie and its servants in the press have tried to show that the struggles in Poland are to be explained by specific conditions in Poland or, at best, by specific conditions in Eastern Europe. In Moscow, the line is that if there are ‘problems’ in Poland (which is a fact they can no longer hide), they are the result of the ‘mistakes’ of the old leadership. In any case, they have nothing to do with the situation in Russia! In Paris, Bonn, London and Washington, the favourite explanation is that workers in Eastern Europe are discontented because they are tired of the queues outside the shops, and they want ‘freedom’ and democracy like in the West. In the West, of course, workers have nothing to complain about! That the workers in Poland are resisting the effects of the same crisis, and struggling against the same exploitation as workers in the West and everywhere else... what an absurd idea!
When events in one part of the world give us a glimpse of the coming nightmare of the bourgeoisie — generalised proletarian struggle against capitalism — then the cry goes up that ‘this is an exceptional case!’. The bourgeoisie feverishly tries to discover what distinguishes this particular case from conditions everywhere else. And it’s true that they don’t have to invent all these differences: conditions are not identical in every country in the world. It is true that certain characteristics of the movement in Poland are the product of specific economic, political and social conditions in Poland, as well as specific historical factors. Equally, the movement in Poland is the product of the general framework given by conditions in Eastern countries and in the Russian bloc. But at the same time revolutionaries and the working class must clearly understand that these particular characteristics have a purely circumstantial significance, and can themselves only be understood from a standpoint which takes in the entire capitalist world - even though it is also necessary to take account of the different pace of the development of the crisis in different countries.
4) The general framework within which events in Poland have unfolded is made up of the following elements:
a) the global and generalised character of the economic crisis
b) the inexorable deepening of the crisis, and the increasingly intolerable sacrifices which this imposes on the exploited class.
c) the historical resurgence of the proletarian struggle since the late sixties.
d) the nature of the problems and the difficulties confronted by the working class; the needs experienced by the working class:
- to confront the obstacle of trade unionism
- to organise its own struggles (the importance of general assemblies)
— to extend the struggle through mass strikes
e) the means adopted by the bourgeoisie to oppose proletarian struggle, and force the working class to accept the economic and military needs of the national capital:
— the increasingly systematic use of state repression
- the use of an armoury of mystifications aimed either at preventing explosions of class struggle, or, if this is impossible, at diverting them into blind alleys.
The different sections of the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries divide up the work between them: at present, we generally find the right-wing in government and the left-wing in opposition.
5) The particular conditions which played a part in the development of events in Poland derive firstly from Poland’s membership of the Eastern bloc, and secondly from specific national characteristics.
In common with all countries in the Eastern bloc, the situation in Poland is characterised by:
a) the extreme gravity of the crisis which today has plunged millions of workers into a state of poverty verging on famine;
b) the extreme rigidity of the social structure which make it practically impossible for oppositional forces to emerge within the bourgeoisie, forces capable of defusing social discontent: in Russia and its satellites every protest movement threatens to act as a focus for massive discontent simmering within the proletariat. This discontent is building up within a population which has been subjected to decades of the most violent counter—revolution. The intensity of this counter-revolution corresponds to the scale of the formidable class movement which it had to crush: the Russian revolution of 1917.
c) the central importance of state terror as practically the only means to maintain order.
In addition, Poland is distinguished by:
a) the national oppression, above all by Russia, which has lasted for more than 100 years. This continues today in another form and accounts for the strength of nationalist mystifications within the working class;
b) the importance of Catholicism which has, for centuries, been seen as a centre of resistance to this oppression and has become a symbol of the Polish national identity (Poland is the only Catholic country among the Slavic nations). Much of the resistance to Stalinism during the past thirty years has been channelled through the Catholic church.
6) The specificities of the situation in Poland can account for some of the mystifications which capitalism is able to implant in the minds of the proletariat:
— the democratic illusions which are a direct product of the totalitarian nature of the regimes in Eastern Europe;
- nationalist and religious mystifications which are largely the product of the history of the Polish nation.
In fact the aspects of the workers’ movement in Poland which can be attributed to specifically Polish conditions are precisely those which express the weaknesses of the movement.
The continuing influence of bourgeois ideas and the weight of the past upon the proletariat is due in large measure to these national specificities, since they are a clear expression of a world divided into nations, classes and various other categories. Above all, they are an expression of the class which can only survive by perpetuating these divisions - the bourgeoisie.
By contrast the real strength of the proletariat in Poland was not expressed in any specific characteristics of the struggles there. The strength of the proletariat is the product of everything which expresses its class autonomy, its break with the atomisation and divisions of the past, everything which expresses the general objectives and ultimate goals of the movement, rejects all local and inherited forms of alienation, and dares to turn towards the only possible future for the whole of humanity: communism, which will abolish all antagonism between human beings through the creation of the human community.
In this context the most important result of the specific conditions in Poland was that they allowed all the most fundamental and general characteristics of the proletarian struggle in the present epoch to emerge clearly, while at the same time generating the classic conditions for a crisis within the ruling class. In Poland the future of the class struggle everywhere was illustrated with a clarity which seemed at times to verge on a caricature.
The extreme gravity of the economic situation, the brutality of the attacks against the working class, increasing rejection of trade unionism by the working class, self—organisation of the working class, mass strikes, the political convulsions of the bourgeoisie... none of these are specific to the situation in Poland. They are ‘specific’ characteristics of the present epoch and they concern the whole of society.
7) The catastrophic economic situation in the countries in the Eastern bloc, and notably in Poland, can only be explained within the framework of the general crisis of capitalism (this is becoming clear even to those cretins who call themselves economists, both in the East and in the West). Furthermore many aspects of the situation in the Eastern bloc illustrate what the development of the crisis has in store for every country, including the great industrial powers which have until now been shielded from the worst effects of the crisis. The increasingly intolerable conditions of the proletariat in Poland today show us what lies in store for the proletariat in the great industrial centres. Even though in the short term the immiseration of the working class takes a different form (low wages and shortages in the East, unemployment in the West) according to whether the regime is capable of throwing whole sectors of the working class, or is prevented from doing this by the threat that it will lead to further economic collapse and a loss of control over the workers once they’ve been ejected from the industrial barracks.
In the end, just as the deterioration of the condition of the working class in Poland (notably through a sharp increase in the price of food) was a decisive factor in pushing the proletariat towards revolt, despite a level of police terror comparable to a war-time state of siege — so the aggravation of the conditions of the proletariat in other countries will force the proletariat to throw off the yoke of repression and bourgeois mystification.
8) Similarly, while it was the complete and obvious integration of the unions into the state apparatus, typical of Stalinist regimes, which initially led the Polish workers to recognise the need to reject these organisations, the Polish workers have shown the way forward for workers in countries where the unions have not yet so clearly revealed their capitalist nature. But the movement in Poland went beyond the denunciation of the official unions. It has increasingly tended to go beyond the “free” trade unions, the idea of which has been attractive to Polish workers because they saw the need for organisations which were independent of the state and capable of defending them against the inevitable counter—attack by the bourgeoisie. In a few months the living experience of the workers in Poland showed the impossibility for the working class in decadent capitalism to create permanent, trade union type organisations without them becoming an obstacle to the struggle. Here again the proletariat in Poland has shown the way forward for the rest of the working class which will on turn be forced, in its struggle against capital, to reject the seductive charms of all types of ‘radical’, ‘militant’ or ‘rank and file’ unionism.
9) Poland is another illustration of the fact that when there is an acute crisis in society, history accelerates. Concerning the need to denounce the unions, the Polish workers have travelled further in a few weeks than the proletariat in other countries has done over a period of several generations. But this acceleration is not limited to the question of the trade unions. In relation to two other questions - the self—organisation of the working class, and the generalisation of the struggle (both clearly linked to the question of the trade unions) - the working class in Poland is now at the vanguard of the world proletariat.
Here again, the ‘specificities’ of the situation in Poland and Eastern Europe (which are merely the general characteristics of decadent capitalism in a more advanced form than elsewhere) have forced Polish workers to discover the paths which will have to be followed by the proletariat of the whole world.
Thus, the authorities’ habitual use of propaganda based on a massive and systematic distortion of reality, as well as the state’s totalitarian control over every aspect of social life, pushed the Polish workers to develop a degree of self-organisation which represents an immense step forward in comparison to what has been achieved in any previous struggle. The successful use of modern technology (e.g. the loudspeakers connected to the negotiating rooms, and the cassette recorders which allowed all the workers to hear the discussions in the central assembly) to facilitate control by the general assemblies over the organisation which they had created, and to allow all the workers to participate in their own struggle, is an example to be followed by workers in all countries.
In the same way, faced with a state with a strong propensity to resort to violent repression, a state which rules through terror and the extreme atomisation of individuals, the Polish proletariat, despite the attempts of the government to divide the movement, knew how to make effective use of that weapon which is so important for struggles in the present period, and is the only way to paralyse the apparatus of repression and overcome atomisation: the mass strike, the generalisation of the struggle. The ability of the Polish working class to mobilise on a massive scale not only for the defence of specific demands but also in solidarity with the struggle of other sectors of the class is an expression of the true nature of the working class - of the class that contains the seeds of communism within itself, and which will have to display the same unity all over the world if it is to rise to meet the challenge of its historic tasks.
10) It is not only in the struggles of the proletariat that the events in Poland prefigure what will increasingly become the general situation in all the industrialized countries. The internal convulsions of the bourgeoisie that we can see in Poland today, including their more exaggerated aspects, are an indication of subterranean developments going on throughout bourgeois society. Since August the ruling circles in Poland have been in a state of genuine panic. In government circles, for the past five months, ministerial portfolios have been constantly changing hands. It has even got to the point that a government ministry has been entrusted to a Catholic. But the convulsions have been strongest in the most important force within the ruling class: the party. At the present time the United Workers’ Party of Poland looks like an immense fairground where the different cliques slog it out, settle old scores, take personal revenge, and put their particular interests above those of the party .and the national capital. Within the bureaucracy, purge follows purge. The supreme organ, the Politburo, is in disarray. The man ‘who knew how to talk to the workers’, Gierek, has suffered the same fate as Gomulka in 1971. He has even been swept out of the Central Committee, in violation of party regulations. At all levels, so many scapegoats have been found, that they have had to call on the discredited old guard to replace them - for example the virulent anti-Semite Moczar. Even the base of the party, which is normally servile, has been affected by these convulsions. More than half the worker militants have left the official unions (which Pravda describes as “healthy forces”) to join the independent unions. There have even been attempts at coordination between sections of the party at grass roots level, outside the official structures, and these efforts have been accompanied by denunciations of “the bureaucracy of the leadership”.
The panic which has seized the party is an indication of the impasse in which the Polish bourgeoisie finds itself. In the face of the explosion of workers’ discontent, it has been forced to allow oppositional forces - the independent unions - to appear and develop, The function of these unions corresponds to that of the left in opposition in most of the Western countries. They have the same ‘radical’ and ‘workerist’ language, the function of which is to derail workers’ combativity, and the same basic solidarity with the ‘national interest’. But a Stalinist regime cannot tolerate the existence of such oppositional forces without profound danger to itself; this is just as true today as it was yesterday. The congenital fragility and rigidity of these regimes has not disappeared by magic, thanks to the explosion of workers’ struggles. Just the opposite! The regime is forced to tolerate a foreign body within its entrails, which it needs in order to survive. But this body is hardly able to perform its function and is rejected by all the fibres of the regime’s own organism. Thus, the regime is going through the worst convulsions in its history.
Antagonisms within the ruling class of a country are nothing new. It is these very real antagonisms which are used in the West today to disorientate the working class - with a right in government which imposes more and more violent austerity measures, and a left which noisily denounces them in order to make them more acceptable to the workers. In ‘normal times’ these divisions within the bourgeoisie, while they are a weakness in one sense, notably in international competition, are also a factor which strengthens the bourgeois in face of the working class, provided they are used correctly as a source of mystification. But when these divisions and the power of the working class grow to a certain point, they turn against the ruling class, itself. When the bourgeoisie is unable any longer to make the workers accept either of the false alternatives which they are offered, then the open conflict within the ruling class becomes the proof that it is no longer capable of governing society. These antagonisms then cease to be a factor which paralyses the proletariat and become a stimulant to the development of the class struggle.
Thus the reluctance of the leadership to accept the principle of independent unions (at the end of August), before the registration of their statutes which finally took place at the end of October, allowed the bourgeoisie to weaken the workers’ economic struggle by diverting their attention to this question. But the arrest of two militants of Solidarity (at the end of November) ended in a humiliating retreat by the regime, even over such a thorny question as the control of the forces of repression, because this time the state was faced with the threat of a new generalised strike wave.
The example of the convulsions of the Polish bourgeoisie gives us an idea of what a ruling class looks like when it is being driven back by the working class. In the last few years there has been no shortage of political crises (like the one in Portugal in 1974—75), but, until now, nowhere else has the proletariat been such an important factor in the internal convulsions of the bourgeoisie. Political crises within the bourgeoisie provoked directly by the class struggle: this is another phenomenon which will become generalised in the years to come!
11) The scale of the convulsions of the Polish bourgeoisie is shown, not only by the fragility of the regime, but in a much more fundamental way by the force of the workers’ movement in Poland, which ravaged the country for five months, and gripped the attention of Europe and the whole world.
We have already drawn attention to the strength of this movement — to its capacity to break out of a trade unionist framework, to go beyond the alternative unions, to develop forms of real working class self—organisation, and to successfully and effectively generalise the struggle.
But the strength of the movement is also shown by its duration: five months of more or less permanent mobilisation, of incessant discussion and reflection on the problems confronted by the working class.
During these five months, the movement, far from dying down, has become stronger. From being a simple reaction to the rise of meat prices, the struggle became a series of open trials of strength with the state, and culminated with the mobilisation of the sector of the working class whose weight is most decisive — that is, the workers in the capital city — to force the authorities to capitulate by releasing workers who had been arrested.
During these five months the struggle has acquired an increasingly political significance: economic demands have grown in scope and depth, while political demands have become increasingly radical. At first the workers’ political demands still reflected the influence of bourgeois ideology, in for example the demand for free trade unions or for television time to be given to the church. But the later demands for control and limitation of the repressive apparatus clearly could not be tolerated by any government in the world, because they amounted to a demand for dual power.
During these five months, figures like Walesa who at first seemed to be ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’, have assumed the role of firemen dispatched by the authorities to deal with each new flare-up, whereas the small minority who had argued against the acceptance of the agreement at Gdansk became a large majority which could no longer be counted upon to support all the Kurons and the Walesas put together. Even the ‘leaders’ retained their popularity, the dynamic of the movement was not towards a strengthening of their authority, but towards a growing questioning of the ‘responsible’ attitude that they advised the workers’ assemblies to adopt. These assemblies no longer allowed themselves to be convinced in a few minutes of the ‘need for compromise’ as they had in Gdansk on 30 August. Instead, for hours and hours they turned a deaf ear towards all the siren calls for ‘realism’, as at the Huta Warszawa plant on 27 November.
These were five months, finally, in which the proletariat retained the initiative against all the bumbling and incoherent reactions of the bourgeoisie.
12) There are those who make great play of the — real — weaknesses of the workers’ movement in Poland, such as the democratic and neo-trade unionist illusions, the influence of religion and nationalism, and conclude that there was no great depth or importance to the movement. It is clear that If one is waiting until the working class, whenever and wherever It begins to struggle, has broken completely with all the mystifications that capitalism has imposed on it over the centuries, until it has a clear vision of the ultimate goals of the struggle and how to achieve them - until it has, in other words, a communist consciousness, then it is unlikely that one will understand what is happening in Poland or anywhere else until the triumph of the revolution. The trouble with this vision, which in general has a very ‘radical’ tinge, is that, as well as expressing an impatience and scepticism typical of the petty bourgeoisie, it turns the living movement of the class completely on its head. The proletarian movement is a process which painfully disengages itself from the grip of the capitalist order in which it is born. As revolutionaries, and Marx in particular, have often pointed out, the mantles of the old world stick to the skin, and it is only after a hard struggle, and several attempts, that they begin to fall away to reveal the true character of the movement underneath. The armchair ‘revolutionary’ confuses the beginning and the end of the movement. He wants to arrive before he has set off. He has taken a photograph, and having confused the image with the model, accuses the latter of being immobile. In the case of Poland, instead of seeing the speed with which the movement progressed from one stage to the next the conquest of fear and atomisation, the growth of solidarity and self—organisation, the emergence of the mass strike — he only sees the nationalism and the religion which the workers’ experience has not yet enabled them to overcome. Instead of seeing the dynamic which leads workers to reject and go beyond the trade union form of organisation, he only sees the trade union illusions which still remain. Instead of understanding the considerable distance travelled by the movement he only sees how far it has still to go, and this discourages him.
Revolutionaries never hide from their class how long and difficult is the road that lies before us. They don’t ‘always look on the bright side’ But because the role of revolutionaries is to stimulate the class struggle, and to make a real contribution to the growth of the proletariat’s consciousness of its own power, they don’t ‘always look on the dark side’ either.
Those people who belittle the achievements of the Polish workers, could also have said in March 1871: “Oh, the Parisian workers are all nationalists!”... and in January 1905: “Well, all the Russian workers do is march behind icons!”.., and the two most important revolutionary experiences before 1917 would have passed them by.
13) Another way of underestimating the importance of the movement in Poland today, is to say that it is less advanced then the struggles in 1970 and 1976, because it has not led to a violent confrontation with the forces of state repression. But this conception ignores the fact that:
- the number of workers who are killed in a struggle has never been a measurement of its strength
- what made the Polish bourgeoisie give way in 1970 and 1976 was not the fact that a few party headquarters were burned down, but the threat of a generalisation of the movement, especially after the massacres.
- in 1980 the bourgeoisie was prevented from using violent repression because this would have been the quickest way to accelerate the upward course of the movement.
— on the basis of their past experience the workers knew that their true strength did not derive from sporadic confrontations with the police, but from the organisation and the growth of the strike movement.
- while the armed insurrection is an inevitable stage for the proletariat on the road to the seizure of power and emancipation, the insurrection
is quite different from the riots which have always been part of its struggle against exploitation.
Riots, like those in 1970 and 1976 at Gdansk, Gdynia and Radom, are an elementary reaction by the working class. They are sporadic and relatively unorganised. They are an expression of anger or despair. On a military level they always end in defeat, even if they can force a momentary retreat by the bourgeoisie. The insurrection~ on the other hand, occurs at the culminating point of a revolutionary process like in 1917. It is a deliberate, considered, organised and conscious act by the working class. Because its objective is the seizure of power, its aim is not to force the bourgeoisie to retreat or grant concessions, but to inflict a military defeat and completely destroy the bourgeoisie and the whole apparatus of bourgeois power and repression. However, much more than a military or technical problem, the insurrection is a political problem: its essential weapons are the organisation and consciousness of the working class. This is why, however it may appear on the surface, and however far there is still to go before this point is reached, the proletariat in Poland, because it is more organised, more experienced and more conscious, is closer to the insurrection today than it was in 1970 or in 1976.
14) The thesis that the struggles in 1980 are less important then those of 1970, while it might have appeared to be true in July, or at the start of the movement, was completely indefensible 5 months later. Whether one judges the present movement by its duration, its demands, its extent, its organisation, its dynamic, or by the nature of the concessions made by the bourgeoisie and the gravity of its political crisis, it can easily be seen that the movement has been much more powerful then in 1970.
The difference between the two movements can be explained by the experience gained by the Polish workers since 1970. But this is only a partial and in itself insufficient explanation. In fact one can only understand the size of the present movement within the general context of the historical resurgence of the world proletariat since the end of the sixties, and by taking account of the different phases of this resurgence.
The Polish winter of 1970 was part of the first wave of struggles — a wave which marked the start of the historical resurgence, and lasted from May ‘68 in France to the strikes in Britain in the Winter of 1973—74, and included the “hot autumn” of 1969 in Italy, the “Cordobazo” in Argentina, the wildcat strikes in Germany in the same year, and many other struggles which affected ALL the industrialised countries. Emerging at a time when the effects of the crisis had hardly begun to be felt (although in Poland the situation was already catastrophic), this working class offensive surprised tile bourgeoisie (as it surprised the proletariat itself). Thus the bourgeoisie, more or less everywhere, found itself momentarily disarmed. But the bourgeoisie recovered itself rapidly and, through all kinds of mystifications, succeeded in holding back the second wave of struggle until 1978. This second wave was led by the American miners in 1978, the French steelworkers at the start of 1979, the Rotterdam dockworkers in autumn ‘79, the British steelworkers at the start of 1980, as well as the Brazilian metal workers throughout this period. The present movement of the Polish proletariat belongs to this second wave of struggles.
These movements were distinguished from the start by:
— a much more catastrophic development of the crisis of capitalism;
— the fact that the bourgeoisie was better prepared to respond to the class struggle;
— the greater experience of the working class, particularly in relation to the problem of the trade unions. Proof of this, experience has been demonstrated in the past few years by the explicit denunciation of the unions by significant minorities of workers, as well as by a clarification of class positions on this question by some revolutionary groups.
In these conditions, the second wave of struggles has assumed far greater proportions than the preceding wave, despite all the traps laid for it by an alerted bourgeoisie. This is confirmed today by the workers’ struggles in Poland.
15) The unprecedented scope of the struggles in Poland, the gravity of the political crisis of the bourgeoisie, and the depth of the world economic crisis, might suggest that a revolutionary situation has arisen in Poland. But this is not the case.
Lenin defined the revolutionary crisis by the fact that “those at the top are no longer able to govern as before” and “those at the bottom no longer want to live as before’. At first sight, this is the situation in Poland. However, in the present period, given the historical experience accumulated by the bourgeoisie, notably in October 1917, it would be illusory to think that the bourgeoisie will allow its weakest sectors to confront the proletariat alone. If we look at how the wise men of the Western bloc brought their gifts to the manger of the newborn ‘democracy’ In Spain in 1976, to help the Spanish bourgeoisie to confront what was at that time the most combative sector of the proletariat in the world, we can see that today, “those at the top” include not only the rulers in Warsaw, but also and above all those in Moscow, as well as in all the other important capitals. The unity demonstrated by the bourgeoisie in the face of the proletarian threat, notably on the level of the bloc, shows that a revolutionary period will not really be on the cards until the proletariat is on the verge of open class war in all the countries able to ‘lend a hand’ to other sections of the bourgeoisie when they are in trouble.
At another level as well, this international maturity of the movement is indispensable for the opening up of a revolutionary period. It is the only thing which will enable the Polish workers to break from the nationalism which still clouds their vision, and prevent them from attaining the level of consciousness without which the revolution is impossible.
Finally such a level of consciousness will necessarily be expressed by the appearance of communist political organisations within the working class. The terrible counter-revolution which was imposed in Russia and the Eastern bloc countries led to the complete physical liquidation of all the political expressions of the proletariat in these countries, and it is only when the proletariat begins to loosen the grip of the counter-revolution, as it is doing today, that it will be able to begin to recreate these organisations.
While the hour has not yet come for an insurrection in Poland, nevertheless a first break has been opened up in the Eastern bloc, after half a century of counter-revolution. The process that will lead to the reconstitution of revolutionary political organisations has already begun.
16) In the same way as the characteristics of the present movement in Poland can only be understood within an international framework, the perspectives for the future can also only be drawn out within this framework.
Even before it has appeared clearly on the level of the class struggle, the international dimension of events in Poland has been demonstrated by the current manoeuvres by the bourgeoisies of all the great powers. The bourgeoisie in these countries either stress their concern over the “threat to socialism” in Poland, or say that they are “prepared to respond to the preoccupations of the Polish authorities in the different areas in which they arise” (Giscard d’ Estaing receiving Jagielski on 21 November) and warn the USSR against any intervention in Poland.
The concern of the bourgeoisie in all countries is real and profound. For while the bourgeoisie can tolerate events of this kind as long as they occur in a second rank country (just as they allow the crisis to decimate the peripheral countries), a similar situation in one of the principal capitalist metropoles, like Russia, France, Britain or Germany, would be intolerable to the bourgeoisie. Poland is like a lighted fuse which could lead to an explosion that would engulf the whole of Eastern Europe including Russia, and set light to these major West European countries which are worst affected by the crisis. This is why the world bourgeoisie has taken charge of the development of the situation in Poland.
For this operation, the two blocs have divided up the work between them:
— the West has taken responsibility for giving aid to the Polish economy, which is on the verge of bankruptcy: there is no possibility of an economic return from the loans, amounting to 20 billion dollars, granted to Poland by the USA, France and Germany. Everyone knows that they are subsidies that will never be repaid and that their purpose is to provide food for the Polish workers during the winter and thus to prevent further revolts.
- Russia’s role is to make threats today, and later provide military ‘fraternal assistance’ to the Polish bourgeoisie if it can’t sort things out on its own.
Despite all the warnings from the West against any Russian ‘adventurism’, and despite Russia’s denunciation of the ‘intrigues of American imperialism and its puppets in Bonn’, there is a basic solidarity between the two blocs, whose common aim is to silence the proletariat in Poland as quickly as possible.
The Russian, Czech and East German diatribes are a classic example of the use of the propaganda weapon. They betray a certain anxiety that the West will use the financial hold that it has over Poland and the other Eastern bloc countries to its own advantage. But their principal function is to threaten the workers in Poland and to prepare the ground for a possible intervention, even though this ‘solution’ is only seen as a last resort (i.e., if the Polish state collapses), because the fear remains that such an action might spark off a social explosion in Eastern Europe.
As for the warning from the West, while they are also, in part, traditional anti-Russian propaganda, they also have another significance - which was not the case for previous warnings of this kind, for example in relation to the situation in the Persian Gulf or in response to the invasion of Afghanistan. Poland is an integral part of the Eastern bloc, and an intervention by Russian troops, however massive, (and any intervention would also involve the use of front—line detachments from East Germany) would not lead to a change in the balance of forces between the two blocs. In fact, the Secretary—General of NATO, Lung, has stated clearly that his organisation would not respond to a Russian invasion. In fact, the principal target of these repeated warnings is not the Russian government, although it is true that they are to some extent an attempt to dissuade a bourgeoisie which is less subtle and experienced than the Western ruling class from embarking on an ‘adventure’ which would have unforeseeable social consequences not only for the East but also for the West. The warnings are essentially an ideological barrage aimed at the Western proletariat. They are an attempt to hide from the working class the true meaning of any Russian intervention in Poland - to hide the fact that, if it happens, an invasion would be a policy operation by capitalism as a whole against the international working class. The Western bourgeoisie would present an invasion as a new example of ‘Soviet barbarism and totalitarianism’ against ‘human rights’. The bourgeoisie would attempt to divert the indignation and the anger that such an operation would not fail to provoke among workers in the West, so that it could be directed against “wicked Russia”. It would use this anger to ‘build solidarity’ between all social classes in the ‘democratic camp’, and this to prevent the proletariat from displaying a class solidarity by taking up the struggle against the real enemy: capital.
Despite the dramatic tone of the Western warnings they are not a sign of a new aggravation of tension between the imperialist blocs. In order to make things very clear, and to show the good faith and good intentions of the USA, Reagan sent his own personal ambassador Percy to Moscow at the end of November, to tell the leaders of the Eastern bloc that America was prepared to re-examine the SALT agreements in a more positive sense. In reality, despite certain appearances, the struggle of the Polish workers has served to warm up the East-West relations that were made extremely frosty by the invasion of Afghanistan.
Thus, once again we see an illustration of the fact that the proletariat is the only force in society which is capable, through its struggle, of preventing capitalism from unleashing a third imperialist holocaust.
17) The events in Poland highlight two dangers facing the proletariat:
- capitulation to the bourgeoisie: the workers could allow themselves to be intimidated, accept Walesa’s arguments about the ‘national interest’ agree to the terrible sacrifices needed to salvage the national economy (even though this can only be temporary), without in any way being spared from an ever—rising level of repression;
- bloody physical crushing: the troops of the Warsaw Pact (because the Polish police and military forces would neither be strong enough nor reliable enough to carry this out) would bring their “fraternal assistance to socialism and the working class in Poland” (i.e., to capitalism and the bourgeoisie).
Against these two dangers, the proletariat in Poland will have to:
- remain mobilised against the attempts of the bourgeoisie to ‘normalise’ the situation; preserve the solidarity and unity which have been its strength up to now; take advantage of this mobilisation, not to launch itself immediately into a decisive military confrontation that would be premature as long as the workers of the other Eastern countries hadn’t developed their combativity, but to continue its attempts at self-organisation, to assimilate the experiences of its struggle, to draw the maximum number of political lessons from it, to prepare for the struggles of tomorrow and get on with the task of forming revolutionary political organisations;
- issue an appeal to the workers of Russia and the satellite countries, since their struggle alone can paralyse the murderous hands of their bourgeoisie and allow the workers of Poland to put paid to the manoeuvres of false friends like Walesa, who is preparing the way for a ‘normalisation’ under Kania.
The proletariat of Poland is not alone. All over the world the conditions are emerging that will impel its class brothers in other countries to join the fight. It is the duty of revolutionaries, of all class-conscious workers, to match the solidarity shown by the bourgeoisie of all countries in its attempts to silence the Polish workers with the solidarity of the world proletariat.
The proletariat must do exactly what the bourgeoisie is desperately trying to avoid: the battles in Poland mustn’t remain isolated and futureless, but on the contrary must be the harbinger of a new leap in the combativity and consciousness of workers in all countries.
If the movement in Poland has now reached a certain plateau, this is in no way a sign of its weakness. On the contrary, this plateau is already situated at a high altitude and, in this sense, the working class in Poland has already responded to the need of the world proletariat to push back the threat of war by “taking its struggle onto a higher level”, as the ICC said in its statement on the invasion of Afghanistan (20 January 1980). What’s more, the movement in Poland will only be condemned to remain at this level if it remains isolated, but there is no reason why it should be condemned to such isolation. That is why, paraphrasing what Rosa Luxemburg said about the Russian revolution in 1918, we can say with hope: “In Poland the problem could only be posed: it’s up to the world proletariat to resolve it”