In August 1980 the workers of Poland gave us the example of the mass strike, of self-organization in the struggle, of true workers' solidarity. Since December 13, 1981, they have given us the example of the courage and combativity which proves that the workers' reaction to the crisis will not be the same as in the thirties. It is precisely because the working class didn't knuckle under when faced with the whole armed might of the capitalist state, it's because even a year of union sabotage and all the illusions fostered by the different agencies of the bourgeoisie were not able to dry up this exceptional force of combativity, that we know that the revolution is possible.
Even if they are not directly aware of it, it is not as ‘Poles' that the workers of Poland have been fighting. Their courage, their determination in an unequal and desperate fight are not the specific characteristics of ‘the Polish people', These are traits specific to the world working class. In history, there are many examples of the heroic courage the proletariat of all countries is capable of: the ‘Communards' of 1871, the Russian and Polish workers of 1905-1906, the workers of Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, China and so many other countries in 1917-1927.
What kind of defeat?
In Poland today, a battalion of the world working class is being attacked with all the violence capitalism is capable of: tanks, machine guns, mass arrests, concentration camps, mines flooded with gas or water (an old capitalist ‘technique' used particularly by the English bourgeoisie in India in the thirties). A battalion of the world working class which is fighting magnificently, to the last ounce of courage. That the battle is lost is obvious: today the authorities announce with satisfaction that there are no longer any points of resistance. Even the passive resistance will be overcome in the long run because it is no longer the fruit of a mass movement, of the collective and organized action of the working class, but the product of a sum of workers who have been reduced to atomization by repression and terror.
And even if this form of resistance keeps up for a long time, the bourgeoisie will still have won a victory by eliminating the most direct expressions of the life of the working class: mass strikes, general assemblies, comparing experiences and open discussion among workers.
We have to face reality. The proletariat in Poland has suffered a defeat today. But this defeat is neither definitive nor irreversible. The workers have not been crushed.
As revolutionaries have observed for a long time, particularly Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, the proletariat is condemned to experience defeats until the day of its final victory over capitalism. By drawing the lessons of defeats in the clearest way possible the proletariat finds the force to prepare the victories of tomorrow.
In itself, a partial defeat is not a catastrophe for the working class. It is part of its long, hard road towards the revolution. It is a school where the proletariat learns to understand its enemy and to understand itself, to evaluate the forces it must develop for future battles, the weaknesses it has to overcome. It is an inevitable aspect of the maturation of class consciousness which will be one of its most crucial weapons in the decisive confrontations to come.
However, every defeat of the proletariat does not have the same meaning. There are defeats which only lead to long-term demoralization and disarray within the working class. These are defeats which take place in the context of a general course of retreat of class struggle, of the triumph of the counter-revolution. Such was the defeat suffered in Spain between 1936 and 1939. In this case, not only did the proletariat lose a million from its ranks, but this sacrifice only prepared the way for the 50 million dead in World War II. In general what characterizes the type of defeat is that the proletariat did not fight directly on its class terrain, but let itself be dragged onto a bourgeois terrain like ‘anti-fascism' in 1936.
On the other hand, defeats which take place in the context of a course towards rising class struggle are fought out on a proletarian terrain. The working class is defeated but it hasn't been enlisted to fight for objectives which aren't its own. The revolution of 1905 was a rehearsal for the victory which came in 1917 because the proletariat in Russia in 1905 fought on its own terrain even if it didn't win right away: the terrain of the mass strike, of the struggle to defend its economic and political interests, of self-organization in the soviets.
In spite of all the maneuvers and the negative weight of Solidarity, in spite of all the Polish flags and the pictures of the Virgin which hampered its movement, the proletariat in Poland was capable of remaining on its own terrain in the struggle against increased exploitation and capitalist repression. Those who fixate on the bourgeois claptrap the working class hasn't yet got rid of cannot understand this and greet the workers' combat in Poland with skepticism. They belong in the same category as those who in 1936 imagined that a red flag gave a proletarian character to anti‑fascism.
In the course of a year and a half of fighting in Poland, themes of bourgeois mystification have not been lacking. But these were not themes to mobilize the working class. On the contrary, they were themes to demobilize the workers' struggles which generally sprang up with class demands (against price rises, food restrictions, repression, arbitrary use of authority in factories, in favor of reducing hours, etc),
This is what allows us to say that the proletariat of today is not fighting against the crisis in the same way it did in the thirties. This is what shows us that the magnificent resistance of the workers in Poland is not just a shot in the dark but the way in which the workers pass the torch of the struggle to their class brothers in other countries.
The defeat today thus belongs to the category of those which directly contribute to the preparation of the final victory of the proletariat. But this can really be so only if the working class draws the maximum of lessons and gives itself the means to avoid such defeats in the future. In fact, the tactic the bourgeoisie is trying to use, as in the past (particularly in Germany in the early 1920's) consists of beating the proletariat group by group, factory by factory, country by country, A series of partial defeats like today's could lead to an irreversible weakening of the working class, to the reversal of the course of history, Then there would no longer be the perspective of the proletarian response to the crisis -- the revolution -- but only the bourgeois response -- world imperialist war.
The essential questions to be raised are therefore:
How did it happen?
Why was the bourgeoisie able to inflict such a bloody setback on the proletariat?
How can we avoid such defeats, such repression, in the future?
The first essential point that should be clear for the proletariat is that the world bourgeoisie is not reacting in a scattered, dispersed way towards class struggle but through concerted action. It is true that the bourgeois class is riddled with a multitude of conflicts of interest which the crisis merely sharpens and which culminate in a division of the world into military blocs, But history has taught us, and today's reality confirms once again, that the bourgeoisie is capable of overcoming its antagonisms when its survival as a class is threatened. On many occasions in the columns of this Review and in our territorial press we have pointed out the division of labor between the different factions of the bourgeoisie in its efforts to deal with the workers' struggle in Poland: between the government and Solidarity, between East and West, between right and left. We return to that subject here, in order to denounce the monstrous duplicity of the American bloc, which is waxing indignant over the repression against the Polish workers and over Russia's collaboration in this repression.
It's important to remember that this ‘indignation', for which Reagan is now the main mouthpiece and which is becoming a major part of the western bloc's ideological preparations for war, was not at all in evidence when the state of siege was first imposed.
For several days, the bourgeoisie of the west, Washington included, was putting out the myth of a "strictly Polish affair", It was only after it became clear that the western workers were unable to express a real solidarity with their class brothers in Poland, that whatever feelings of solidarity they did express were being suitably channeled by the unions and the left, that the western bourgeoisie, feeling secure on the class struggle front, could afford the luxury of using the repression in its propaganda against the Russian bloc -- a repression which it had directly helped to prepare.
If there is still any proof needed of the complicity between the great powers in the repression of the workers in Poland, we only have to take note of the declaration made by M. Doumeng, a member of the French Communist Party and a bigwig in a major commercial enterprise (in Paris Match of 1 January) To the question "Concerning the military coup in Poland, do you believe that the Soviet Union and the United States got together beforehand", Doumeng answered openly: "What strikes me is that both have an interest in order reigning in Poland. I was in Poland three weeks ago. I met a very powerful American businessman. He was there to explain to the Polish government that he was prepared to lend the Polish government a billion dollars on one condition: order must be restored in Poland." It's not because he is s member of the French CP that this individual can say such things. You could read exactly the same sort of thing in the Wall Street Journal immediately after Jaruselski's coup.
But neither side admits that the solidarity between east and west is not just limited to finance, In the last analysis, the bourgeoisie is ready to write off the economic collapse of Poland. What was important to the bourgeoisie above all was to silence a proletariat that was giving too much of a ‘bad example' to the proletariats of other countries -- and to do this before other workers took up this example under pressure front increasing misery.
This is the second essential point that should be clear for the world working class: the bourgeois repression in Poland was possible only because the proletariat of this country remained isolated. (cf. the article in this issue ‘Economic Crisis and Class Struggle').
This isolation in particular allowed Solidarnosc to weaken the working class in Poland and facilitated the impact of its democratic, union, self-management and nationalist mystifications.
Poland today is a tragic example of the need for the proletariat to generalize its struggle on a world scale, If this lesson isn't understood, if the proletariat lets itself be turned around by the false campaigns of ‘solidarity' orchestrated by the left factions of capital, if it doesn't realize that the only true solidarity is to be found in the common struggle against misery and exploitation, then there will be other, worse repressions and at the end of the line, an imperialist holocaust.
(4 January 1982)