Solidarity: socialism with a divine face
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30

Text from: Polska Solidarności. Kontrowersje, oblicza, interpretacjeOMP, Kraków 2011.


In this text, I would like to propose a new theory of Solidarity. However, a new theory cannot be produced out of thin air. As is known from cognitive psychology, in order to accept a given theory, it either has to be consistent with theories already espoused (assimilation) or the antedating theories have to adjust to the new one (accommodation). Therefore, I will first reconstruct the theses presented in books summarising the output of Polish and foreign Solidarity researchers, namely: “Filozofia publiczna Solidarności” [The public philosophy of Solidarity] (Ciżewska 2010), “Semiotyka Solidarności” [Semiotics of Solidarity] (Rojek 2009), and the collection of essays “Solidarność znaczy więź” [Solidarity means a Bond] (Stawrowski 2010). These titles are an irreplaceable source of knowledge concerning the greatest Polish social movement. Against their backdrop I will present my own perspective, which – I hope – will adopt their strengths and be free from their weaknesses. In short, by assimilating my theory of Solidarity to the existing ones, I intend for these theories to accommodate it.

Three theories of Solidarity

Solidarity was a multidimensional phenomenon which falls outside such classifications as left-wing/right-wing, conservatism/progressivism, liberalism/egalitarianism, individualism/collectivism. As Timothy Garton Ash wrote, what happened in Poland fits into none of these Western-made moulds, and “rather than manipulating the Polish revolution until it fits into our existing categories, we might do better to adjust our categories until they fit the Polish revolution” (as cited in Ciżewska 2010: 9). Research by Alain Touraine’s team (1989) has shown that there is no common denominator for Solidarity, which combines democratic, independence-seeking, trade-union and religious contents. The report by Ireneusz Krzemiński (2010) prepared on the 30th anniversary of the movement’s establishment has recently confirmed these fundamental conclusions.

Given the problems with unambiguous description of Solidarity, Elżbieta Ciżewska, Paweł Rojek and Zbigniew Stawrowski had to formulate new analytic categories. The sole undertaking of such an ambitious task renders their studies extremely important.

The author of “Filozofia publiczna Solidarności” interpreted the multidimensional experience of the movement in the light of republican political tradition. This approach enabled her analyses to square with the historical context of Polish republicanism while incorporating them into one of the most essential and topical debates among philosophers and historians of ideas. Although a categorical statement that Solidarity was a republican movement is evaded in the book, a strong conviction is evident that republicanism helps to understand various aspects of the movement and to point out its hitherto unlooked-at dimensions (Ciżewska 2010: 22). To support her thesis, the author referred not only to literature on the subject but also documents from that time, particularly biographical interviews with Solidarity members conducted by the teams of Ireneusz Krzemiński and Mirosława Marody, as well as occasional poetry.

In turn, Paweł Rojek (2009), elegantly showed, using the tools of cultural semiotics, that while the Polish United Workers' Party’s discourse was authoritarian, dichotomy-based and claiming the Party’s exclusive right to be correct, the Solidarity’s discourse broke this pattern and diverged towards the principles of liberalism, such as pluralism and dialogue. Following Russian semiotics scholars, he called the former discourse binary and the latter – ternary. The research strategy adopted by Rojek was dualistic. On the one hand, he analysed Polish literature on the subject of the communist system and social resistance against it (Krzemiński 1997, Kowalski 1990, Staniszkis 2006) with a focus on analysing the Party newspeak; this approach can be called deductive, top-down. On the other hand, he used an inductive, down-to-top approach, studying the official documents of the Party and Solidarity (Polish United Workers' Party Programme, Statutes and Central Committee Report announced during the Party’s 9th Special Convention on 14-20 July 1981, Solidarity Statutes, National Coordinating Commission Report, and Programme endorsed at the 1st National Congress of Delegates, 5-10 September, 26 September-7 October 1981).

Starting with different premises, Zbigniew Stawrowski (2010: 110) argued in his title essay that “The special character of the Solidarity community lay, above all, in the fact that it was founded on the highest values, absolute values. It needs to be said very clearly: the deepest sense of the experience of the ‘First Solidarity’ will be unveiled for us only if we comprehend it as the experience of a bond and community so deep and so intensely lived that it must simply be called a religious bond.” For the author, Solidarity was a miracle, an ethical event, a time of grace, a broad-based religious conversion, conscience awakening, a breath of spirit, a community of people of goodwill (Stawrowski 2010: 10-13). In this sense should the Tischner-inspired phrase “solidarity means a bond” be understood, i.e. solidarity means religion (from Latin religio, bond; Stawrowski 2010: 12). Because Stawrowski, unlike the other authors, witnessed the movement’s emergence, he primarily refers to his personal experience, which he takes as his “originary experience”, but also to the direct experience of conversations he had with other activists as a pollster at the Centre for Social Studies of the Mazowsze region (Stawrowski 2010: 10). Unlike the others, rather than focusing on the secular theorists of Solidarity, he presents more coverage on its religious practitioners: Józef Tischner and John Paul II.

Recent years have therefore brought three theories of Solidarity. Which one should be selected? Let us consider the following criteria (Łuczewski 2010b):

1.                 Integration. A mature theory should trend towards integration with other theories. Each of the discussed authors fulfilled this condition in their own way since they all set their theoretical perspective in conflict with existent theories. Paweł Rojek criticised the visions presenting Solidarity as an authoritarian and dualistic movement that somehow reflected the structure of communist ideology. Zbigniew Stawrowski disagreed with the view on the movement, characteristic of positivist-inclined social sciences, which reduced it to an element in the play of forces that had led to the fall of communism. What Stawrowski meant was defined by John Paul II (2005: 57) as lying beyond the limit of words. Finally, Elżbieta Ciżewska presented rival visions of Solidarity, including republican visions, and used them as background to outline her own proposal. Paradoxically, while the authors tried to do justice to the rival approaches, they did not enter into dialogue with one another and made no attempt to determine which of their theories was superior.[1]

2.                Flexibility. A mature theory can respond to anomalies that occur therein. The correct response does not involve rejecting the anomalies as exceptions but rather explaining them by additional theories, which will subsequently either be integrated into the core of the theory itself or transform it. This condition is the hardest one to meet. Ciżewska and Stawrowski are aware that their analytic categories do not cover all aspects of Solidarity. For example, Ciżewska (2010: 240-263, 264-312) points out that the movement’s economic programmes and religious symbolism are difficult to describe using the republican context. Stawrowski (2010) notes that the ethical aspect of Solidarity is only fit for describing the “originary experience” of rank-and-file members, but not those who were engaged in official negotiations with the Party and much closer to the political community. Against this background, Rojek’s theory appears to be the least flexible one, the Solidarity’s religious dimension not being in his view a reality sui generis but rather the foundation of the movement’s liberalism (see Rojek 2009: 137). This causes the author, who overlooks the tension between Catholicism and liberalism, to try and reduce the former to the latter.

3.                Dynamics. A paradigm must generate new questions to be considered progressive. In an ideal situation research should provide bold, significant and verifiable explanations. This condition was only to a certain extent fulfilled by the authors as they presented some new and bold interpretations of the movement but failed to formulate full explanations. Elżbieta Ciżewska basically rejected explanation in favour of description (merely suggesting that Solidarity was a revival of a specifically Polish republicanism), whereas Paweł Rojek was aiming at explanation but failed to achieve this goal. When criticising the “thesis on reflection”, instead of focusing in his further analyses on whether the Solidarity ideology resulted from the communist ideology, he focused on whether the Solidarity ideology resembled the communist ideology. The fullest explanation can be found in the study by Stawrowski, who assumed that the ethical sensitivity of the movement members declined as they became more politically involved, and an “us-them” line of thinking appeared.

This brief review demonstrates that the theories of Solidarity developed by the scholars have their strengths but are not free from major weaknesses. Neither their integration is complete, nor are they fully dynamic and flexible. What should we do in such a case? These theories should be integrated, made more dynamic and flexible. However, this cannot be done within the scope of any of them, which necessitates adopting a wider perspective. My theory of five outlooks on life should provide us with such a perspective (Łuczewski 2009).

Solidarity between outlooks on life

The main assumption of my theory states that ideological options to choose from in the public space are as follows: (a) messianism, (b) socialism, (c) liberalism, (d) conservatism, and (e) decadentism. Each developed in Poland after the January Uprising. Conservatism was represented by the political group known as Stańczycy (Tarnowski, Szujski, Bobrzyński), liberalism – by the early National Democrats (Popławski, Dmowski, Balicki), and socialism – by the Polish rebellious (Krzywicki, Limanowski, Abramowski, Żeromski, Kelles-Krauz). Neo-Romantic trends were fostered by Brzozowski and Szczepanowski inspired by messianism of the Theree Bards while Przybyszewski and his followers, such as Boy-Żeleński, became the greatest exponents of decadentism. All these options occurred at that time in their pure forms – and I take them as ideal types, against which I shall measure Solidarity. I am guided by the belief of Hannah Arendt (1994: 30), who wrote that “elementary problems of politics never come as clearly to light in their immediate and simple urgency as when they are first formulated (...). The beginning, in Jacob Burckhardt’s words, is like a ‘fundamental chord’ which sounds in its endless modulations.” Like political philosophy in the West was born in Greece, Polish political philosophy was born after 1863. This is when its “fundamental chord” sounded.

The representatives of messianism and decadentism remained outside the political and economic systems. While the former aimed at inner transformation, conversion, becoming more moral and religious or, as Słowacki named it, angelification, the decadents were determined to – so to speak – loose themselves when succumbing to human nature rather than attempt to angelify it. On the other hand, proponents of the other three outlooks wished to influence the political system. Socialists, who represented the values and interests of lower classes, wished for its complete transformation while heavily criticising the elites, calling for a moral revolution (Abramowski’s main motto) and entrusting their leadership to charismatic figures. Liberals, representing the values and interests of middle classes, were closer to the centre of the system and advocated modernisation and realism while opposing the radicalism of socialists, the lethargy of conservatives and the reactionaryism of clergy. At the same time they believed in liberal democracy and economic development. Finally, conservatives were the guardians of the political system who defended the status quo maintained by institutions and the enlightened, moral elites. They drew their political power from the solidarity tradition and ideology (social unity under their leadership), presenting the constructivist experiments of socialists and nationalists as a threat that provoked unnecessary divisions in the nation.

The advantage of my theory over the rival theories of Solidarity lies in that it transcends dualistic contrasts (binarism/ternarism; republicanism/liberalism; ethicality/politicality), heading towards a continuum of attitudes. It can thereby fully render the complexity of the social reality. Moreover, it relates political values to the social context; to the groups that support these values and the ways in which they are legitimised. It can therefore not only describe but also explain particular outlooks on life.

The theory of five outlooks makes it possible, I believe, to integrate the three presented theories of Solidarity while remaining dynamic and flexible.

1.                 Integration. In the light of the abovementioned theory, those of Ciżewska, Rojek and Stawrowski do not seem to exclude one another but rather to act complimentarily as they pertain to different aspects of Solidarity.

2.                Flexibility. The said theory omits no aspect of Solidarity and regards none of them as anomaly, which would result in reducing one aspect to another. Additionally, it is open to further aspects, which are difficult to capture in the rival theories.

3.                 Dynamics. The major advantage of the said theory is, however, the fact that it not only formulates a possibly full description of Solidarity but also provides an explanation of why Solidarity had such and no other features.

The messianism of Solidarity

When describing the role of religion, Stawrowski pays particular attention to John Paul II (Stawrowski 2010: 10). He rightly points out that had it not been for him and his first pilgrimage to Poland, Solidarity either would not have come into existence or it would have become something quite different (Stawrowski 2005/2006: 148-149). Although Stawrowski does not employ the notion of messianism, it provides – I believe – a better key to understanding the role of religion in the emergence of Solidarity than a general concept of ethical bond (Łuczewski 2010a, see Ciżewska 2010: 223, 302, Osa 2010, Staniszkis 2006/2007).

Following Gerschom Scholem (1991: 151-159), we can distinguish two kinds of messianism. The first, internal, spiritual messianism, characteristic of Christianity, entails imitating the Messiah and becoming like Him. The second, social and community messianism, which the author indicates as characteristic of Judaism, is waiting for the Messiah to come and save the nation. In the former case the Messiah is a saviour of the soul; in the latter – a saviour of the community, a man and a group being chosen, respectively. From the Catholic point of view, the former messianism is in line with orthodoxy and the latter poses a risk of heterodoxy.

We can find the two types of messianism in the teachings of John Paul II, though it naturally never goes beyond the Catholic frame. On the one hand, the pope’s aim was to prompt the Poles to discover that each of them is called on to be God’s son and to share in the kingly office of Christ (Stawrowski 2005/2006: 151). When articulating the experience of Solidarity, this context was referred to as “renewal of conscience” or “living in truth”. On the other hand, the matter concerned more than just internal transformation and imitating Christ; it concerned the transformation of the entire community, the entire nation, it was about solidarity. For the Poles, Pope John Paul II was becoming a prophet (Gawin 2005/2006), a king (Karłowicz 2004: 218-227), a leader acting in persona Christi – the Messiah’s vicar and a messiah himself (see Ciżewska 2010: 302). Stawrowski (2005/2006: 150) described this process: “Apart from its all other aspects and themes, the pope’s pilgrimage awoke the awareness of human’s inherent dignity in the Poles. (...) All that the pope did – not only his words but also the power to which he opened listeners – is most aptly described with the phrase ‘Confirmation of history’, which he referred to in the Kraków Błonia Park”. “In a certain and important sense,” the author continued (Stawrowski 2005/2006: 151), “the events known from the Acts of the Apostles now repeat themselves, when the descent of the Holy Spirit marked the birth of the Church – a community of disciples and brothers of Christ, who shed their fear and come out from hiding to become valiant witnesses of the Gospel. A community of God’s sons and daughters was born on Whit Sunday 1979 in Poland, a community of those who are not afraid to open the doors to the Redeemer and follow him every day.”

If we look at John Paul II from the perspective of messianism, we will better understand both the “Confirmation of history” rite, unknown to orthodox theology, and its powerful societal aftermath entailing the emergence of a ten-million-strong social movement.

The messianism of John Paul II drew on three sources. The first was the Vaticanum II revolution. The Council defined the Catholic Church as “messianic people” who bring salvation and hope to the world (Lumen gentium, chap. II). In memorable words, the Church (Lumen gentium 8, 10, 12), which shares in the Messiah’s triple office as priest, king and prophet (Redemptor hominis 18-21), was defined as priestly, kingly and prophetic people –the people of God. “All men are called to belong to the new people of God” (Lumen gentium 13), in order to “constitute one family” (Ad gentes, 1) in Christ. However, men cannot become the sons of God and form the people of God on their own. They need grace, the power of the Spirit. Without it they cannot gain the office of kings, priests and prophets. “This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people” (Catechism of the Catholic Church; CCC, 1287). The essence of Confirmation becomes clear in this light. It is a sacrament that offers this plenitude to all the faithful (CCC 1287). The ritual of anointment with chrism directly relates to the rituals of anointing kings. Those who undergo this ritual become equal to kings.

The second important inspiration for John Paul II was Stefan Wyszyński’s theology of nation, which determined the main features of the post-World War II Polish Catholicism. In this theology, a nation was sanctioned by God and thus upgraded into a Nation. The beginning of the Polish nation according to Wyszyński, like all other nations, includes the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Lewandowski 1989: 114-115). The baptism of Poland in 966 incorporated the Poles into the mystic Body of Christ. “Thenceforth began the coupling of Christianity and Polishness, the Church and the nation. It was the moment when the roads of the Polish Church and the Polish nation converged” (Lewandowski 1989: 116). “It was not enough for people to be baptised but for nations to receive Christ’s spirit through baptised people” (Lewandowski 1989: 117). A concept of “historic sacraments” appeared in Primate Wyszyński’s teachings of in the context of the millennium of the baptism of Poland. “Be faithful” he wrote “to your being God’s children, which was first a gift from the creator of human nature – God the Father, and then from the giver of grace – Jesus Christ. Born of God the Father and reborn of water and the Holy Spirit – may you grow in the arms of your Mother Church and in all the powers of God’s grace as you grow in the arms of your family and nation – in age and in wisdom” (as cited in Lewandowski 1989: 115).

The messianism represented by John Paul II had its third source in Polish Romanticism. Essential features of this trend included an apocalyptic awareness of a national catastrophe that would bear, unavoidably, blessed fruit just as Christ’s death had led to Resurrection. Polish Romantics, in line with the vision of Joachim of Fiore, awaited the dawning of the third age of history: after the ages of the Father and Son, they waited for the age of the Spirit, which would bring freedom and moral renewal to the Poles, and –  in a wider sense – the Slavs. However, this age does not begin spontaneously; there must be a miracle, there must come the saviour, a messiah: political leader (e.g. Napoleon), a Son of the Word, a pope or even a “Slavonic pope”.

The pope in an astonishing manner proved to be not only the heir to Polish Romanticism but also the fulfilment of its expectations.

John Paul II (2005 22-24) was marked by strong apocalyptic awareness, that of rising evil but also of the increasingly strong presence of good throughout history. As he wrote, “the evil of the 20th century was not a petty kind of evil. It was an immense-scale evil that took a state form to deliver its fatal work, evil that took the form of a system. At the same time, God’s grace poured out in increasing abundance. There is no such evil that God could not make into greater good. There is no such suffering that God could not make into a road that leads to Him.” (p. 171).

Furthermore, John Paul II was fully aware that the revival of Slavdom could be brought through him, that the Poles had an important mission they had been called to perform. “Today, in the year of the Lord 1979, on this anniversary of the descent of the Holy Spirit,” he said on the Lech’s hill in Gniezno, “as we go back to those beginnings, we cannot fail to hear also – as well as the language of our own forefathers – other Slav languages and related languages, languages in which there then began to be heard the voice of the upper room that was opened wide to history. These languages cannot fail to be heard especially by the first Slav Pope in the history of the Church. Perhaps that is why Christ has chosen him, perhaps that is why the Holy Spirit has led him – in order that he might introduce into the communion of the Church the understanding of the words and of the languages that still sound strange (...) Is it not Christ's will, is it not what the Holy Spirit disposes, that this Pope, in whose heart is deeply engraved the history of his own nation from its very beginning and also the history of the brother peoples and the neighbouring peoples, should in a special way manifest and confirm in our age the presence of these peoples in the Church and their specific contribution to the history of Christianity? Is it not the design of Providence that he should reveal the developments that have taken place here in this part of Europe in the rich architecture of the temple of the Holy Spirit? Is it not Christ's will, is it not what the Holy Spirit disposes, that this Polish Pope, this Slav Pope, should at this precise moment manifest the spiritual unity of Christian Europe? Although there are two great traditions, that of the West and that of the East, to which it is indebted, through both of them Christian Europe professes ‘one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all’ (Eph 4:5-6) (...). Yes, it is Christ's will.” (homily, 3 June 1979, Gniezno).

Finally, not only did John Paul II wait for the Spirit, but he also memorably summoned it, thus commencing, in a way, a new era of history: “Let your Spirit descend. Let your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth, the face of this land.” It is not coincidental that the “confirmation of history” rite had its antecedents in Polish Romantic thought, which featured such concepts as “sacrament of the nation” or even “National Sacrament.” Cyprian Kamil Norwid, a poet much valued by the pope, looked at Polish history from the angle of the national baptism, Eucharist, ordination and matrimony (Zajączkowski 1998: 158-171). A similar perspective was presented by the resurrectionist Piotr Semenenko (Macheta 1988). According to him, sacraments were supposed to fit the Poles into the mould of salvation history by: making them God’s children (baptism), giving the gifts of counsel, strength and fortitude (confirmation) as well as fulfilment on earth (ordination).

John Paul II (2005: 56-57) saw Poland as not only having a national mission but also capable of performing it. Faced with the ideology of evil, the Poles turned to the source, i.e. Christ, to come out from this meeting stronger and more courageous. The theology they represented involved being God’s children rather than scholarly speculation. In the long run, the pope meant for us not to waist that victory.

The messianism renewed by John Paul II implied a return to the beginning of Christianity, to its Jewish roots. Messianism was no longer a matter of inner transformation, spiritual conversion, but returned to be a social cause. As in Judaism, it became a process “taking place in public, on the stage of history and in the medium of community”, thereby transforming the previously individual Christian eschatology and imparting a “national dimension” to it (Scholem 1991). It is not a coincidence that John Paul II, just as Stefan Wyszyński, repeatedly referred to the history of the chosen people. We can notice a very interesting reversal here. In Christianity, the sacred historical events, such as the Flood, the crossing of the Red Sea or the entire Exodus, became figurative representations of the Reality (Christ’s death and resurrection) while also being representations of sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation). The history of the nation’s salvation thus became the history of catechumen’s salvation (Danielou 1996). In turn, John Paul II related the sacraments back to world history and salvation history. However, a sacrament is no mere figurative image, but it is above all an “effective sign” linking with Christ.

Messianism defined in this way becomes a power that can transform social reality. A figure, such as John Paul II, who shares in God’s kingly, priestly and prophetic offices and who himself becomes a king, priest and prophet, gains charisma in a strict sense, i.e. God’s grace, which is then passed to others. Consequently, a moral community, or – sociologically speaking – a social movement, begins to gather around this figure. The pope received a Spirit that enabled him to gather and unite people around him. The Holy Father forewent the traditional and bureaucratic legitimisation of his authority, which would not motivate or unite people, choosing charismatic rule instead. Charisma emerges always beyond the logic of social systems, disrupts traditional routines and infringes the existing Law. John Paul II was the first “pilgrim pope” in two thousand years, who followed in the footsteps of the Apostles and brought the Gospel to all corners of the world.

Every social movement is based on charismatic leadership. John Paul II was an extraordinary leader. The enormous power of his theology lay in the fact that he could solve the social movement paradox, which enabled Solidarity to turn from a sect into a church that spread throughout the society. If we want to mobilise a given community, we must present it as (a) large, (b) united, (moral) and (d) engaged (Tilly 2005). However, the two former demands are in conflict with the two latter. If we care about the size and unity of the movement, we must quieten the issue of moral engagement, which poses a risk of divisions (different moralities exist) and of limitation to the movement’s influence (rigorous morality might deter potential supporters). Thus, on the one hand we would have movements large and united but lacking expression, and on the other – expressive ones but lacking influence. The reference to religion and Catholicism won John Paul II widespread support because the Poles were Catholic while it made them feel worthy and engaged. Religion in the theology of John Paul II turned the nation into a moral community, indicating the ideal in pursuit of which one should become involved. Without the reference to religion, the nation would be a mere group of individuals unable to transcend the social system in their imagination and incapable of joint action. John Paul II additionally reinforced the motivating power of his theology by linking it to primordialist themes, which suggested eternal existence of the nation. Because the nation was born through baptism in 966, it has gained an additional, sacred aspect (John Paul II 2005: 82).

At the end of the day, Solidarity was an outcome of papal messianism. It resembled a religious association (Cichocki 2005; Karłowicz 2004: 189-211). Stawrowski (2010: 112) finds no comparison more apt than to a community of the first Christians. It was unquestionably based on conversion (Karłowicz 2004: 194, Stawrowski 2010: 110). The symbolism of Solidarity was abundant in religious references. A portrait of John Paul II hung on the Gdańsk Shipyard gate alongside the icon of St. Mary of Częstochowa, and his credit for the formation of the movement was widely acknowledged. The entire composition was adorned with flowers like an altar for a Corpus Christi procession. Slogans written on the wall included “Jesus, I trust in You” and “God with us”. It was common to organise Masses in the striking companies, and a cross became one of the most important symbols of the opposition (Ciżewska 2010: 292-296).

Jadwiga Staniszkis (2006/2007: 300, 305) sought resemblance to millenarian movements, “a dynamite of fundamentalism” and a heterodox character in Solidarity. She also agreed that moral transformation was a key factor that turned the members of the movement into “near-messiahs” (Staniszkis 2006/2007: 3005). Other observers pointed out that Solidarity itself gained messianic features while being associated with the belief in an apocalyptic historical breakthrough and hope for the advent of a new age of the Spirit, an age of freedom and morality, as well as the belief in the providential roles of John Paul II and Lech Wałęsa and in the mission for Polish workers and the Poles to conduct in Europe and the world (Ciżewska 2010: 223, 302-312). It is not surprising how evocative the motives of post-November Uprising messianism were in such a community. Poems by Adam Mickiewicz were recited during trade union celebrations, and the poet’s words “In proportion as ye shall have improved and enlarged your soul, in that same proportion your laws shall be improved, and your boundaries enlarged” were mentioned by Józef Tischner (1985: 34). Mottos of the poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid appeared in the opposition press. The Three Bards’ poems were recited, “The Books and the Pilgrimage of the Polish Nation” and Father Peter's vision from “Forefathers’ Eve” being particularly popular. The Song of the Confederates by Juliusz Słowacki also gained much publicity (Ciżewska 2010: 189, 299-312).

The socialism of Solidarity

Just as the messianic view on Solidarity deepens the religious insight presented by Stawrowski, the socialist view on Solidarity, I believe, deepens the republican insight presented by Ciżewska. This is because socialism encompasses all aspects within the republican framework as well as those beyond. Therefore, republicanism is socialism. Additionally, socialism is something more than republicanism. The socialist perspective also seems more legitimate given the fact that Solidarity was a class movement with a core comprised of workers, who simply believed in socialism (Rojek 2009: 157-166). Finally, this perspective helps us find a logic transition between a messianic community and a social movement.

Józef Tischner memorably described the messianic character of Solidarity (1992: 11): “We want to be a united nation, but not united by fear. We want the simplest human duty to unite us. We are experiencing extraordinary moments. People throw off their masks, come out of hiding and show their real faces. Their consciences resurface from ashes and oblivion. Today we are who we truly are. Believers are believers, doubters are doubters and non-believers are non-believers. There is no sense in playing someone else’s roles. Everybody wants to be called by their own name.” This community does not form against someone; it is a community of values and consciences that exists always for someone. This makes it apolitical and pre-political (Cichocki 2005, Gawin 2002).

Just as spiritual messianism may transform into social messianism, social messianism may become political. A moral community may no longer exist only for itself, but it may voice demands for changing political and economic systems. According to the theory of five outlooks, messianism turns into socialism the moment it becomes political. In other words, socialism appears when demands for moralisation no longer limit to one’s own soul or group but require that economy and politics become moral too. This is also the moment when the community turns from apolitical into anti-political and anti-economic.

The relationship between messianism and socialism is clearly visible in the thought of John Paul II and Józef Tischner on the one hand, and in the thought of the Polish rebellious of the late 19th and early 20th century on the other (Cywiński 1971). While the Christian thinkers proceeded from religious to social ideals, the Polish radicals proceeded from social to religious ones. Messianism was the starting point for the former, whereas it was the ending point for the latter. However, notwithstanding the different roads they took, they reached very similar conclusions.

Catholicism applied to a public sphere becomes a Catholic social science which has pronounced moralising accents on the one hand and anti-economic ones on the other. It was Józef Tischner’s Catholic social science and work philosophy (1985, 1992) that articulated and underpinned the programme of Solidarity. The fundamental principle was a demand for the moralisation, and even sanctification of development, work and the economy (Sollicitudo rei socialis 8, 9). The market should above all be fair. This kind of ethical perspective was the polar opposite to “materialistic and economistic thought” (Laborem exercens 7, 13), capitalist liberalism and collectivist Marxism (Sollicitudo rei socialis 20, 21), all of which neutralised the economic sphere. The market should not be guided by profit but by the good of man. For John Paul II, “it is always man who is the purpose of the work, whatever work it is that is done by man – even if the common scale of values rates it as the merest ‘service’, as the most monotonous even the most alienating work” (Laborem exercens 6, 15). However, work does not only apply to man, it also builds and strengthens the community, its horizon stretching towards the Homeland and Heaven. “Work is mutuality. But it is not only a matter of mutuality between people. It is also mutuality with God, who sanctifies the world by the work of His grace.” (Tischner 1985: 28, 15-37). “man (...) shares by his work in the activity of the Creator” (Laborem exercens 25).

Just as the economy, politics was also supposed to become an ethical field. Politics should not be power-oriented, but – again – man-oriented. It should prompt us to find God’s image in ourselves. Politics must respect nation’s and human rights, foster solidarity and freedom while leading to truth and good, common good. This implies that politics should be rid of “structures of sin”, which drive man away from his real goal and prevent his conversion (Sollicitudo rei socialis 33, 38).

Analogous demands for moralising politics and economy were formulated by Polish leftists at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, who also became one of the major inspirations of Solidarity. Looking back at the thoughts of Edward Abramowski, one of their most prominent representatives, one can find a nearly ready trade union programme. He was quite rightly considered a herald of Solidarity (Giełżyński 1984).

Solidarity and Abramowski had a common enemy in Bolshevism. The doctrine canonically expressed by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was somehow a mirror reflection of Abramowski’s doctrine, which bears out the like-mindedness of the latter and the movement. His idea of “a public collusion against the government” correlated with the concept of general strike; the idea of ties of friendship, self-governance and association harmonised with the Solidarity’s vision of self-governmental Republic of Poland, whereas anarchism (opposition against state), populism (belief in value of the people) and rejection of violence suited the sensitivity of workers (Ciżewska 2010: 217-220). Abramowski (1986: 243) phrased the Solidarity’s commandment to “live in truth” as “do not lie to your soul”. There is no better way one could voice the needs of the opposition than when he answered the question of what freedom was by writing that it was freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of electing a Polish government in Warsaw, freedom of school, and – finally – freedom of Poland and every person (Abramowski 1986: 178-184). No wonder that he invoked the notion of “solidarity” when describing his programme: “Out of all life factors there is only one that gives rise to an innately driven revolution, the most working-class and the most opposing to the basics of the existing society; this factor is solidarity.” (Abramowski 1986: 118).

The most important idea of Abramowski that Solidarity put into effect was his “moral revolution”. Its purpose was to make politics and economy ethical spheres. Abramowski described its essence as a replacement of egoistic and profit-oriented morality with altruistic morality that leads to brotherhood. The moral revolution was supposed to involve renouncing the habits of a self-interested rentier and espousing the highest ideal: the good of the people. Finally, it was also envisaged to involve liberation from the determinism of social rules and becoming a free and creative individual. As Abramowski (1986: 59) wrote, “By stating that a moral revolution is the practical side of socialism, we communicate the main principle of its policy: that only what goes through the consciousness of masses as an idea can become a historical fact and a social reality; the principle (...) commonly expressed as a motto that ‘the proletariat can by its own act liberate itself’.” However, a moral revolution in the individual soul must precede a social revolution of all kinds. No durable systemic change can occur without human inner transformation. The society will not change unless people change. Moreover, a social transformation without a moral revolution is not only improbable but also dangerous. Considering the good of the people, we must not forget the good of an individual. Otherwise there is always a looming prospect of violence. A revolution cannot be imposed on people nor can it be administered or steered; it must arise from thoughts and desires.

Józef Tischner noticed “the ethical side to the idea of socialism”, wherein he saw no contradiction to the ethos of Christianity. He believed, however, that justice-seeking socialism always classified social conditions before consciousness. We must first abolish private property and introduce fair distribution of goods (Tischner 1981: 56). Abramowski did not share such a vision of socialism. Socialism starts from man. In this sense it converges with Christianity, which professes that, as Tishner put it, “the beginning should be elsewhere: one should start from putting human-to-human relations in order, establishing the order of love. Things that are subjective precede those objective” (Tischner 1981: 56).

Just as Tischner and John Paul II drew on religion to form a social transformation programme, Abramowski used religion to provide this programme with strong ethical foundations. In this light “moral revolution” is equivalent to religious conversion; it is the “revolution of spirit” mentioned by John Paul II and the “solidarity of consciences” encouraged by Tischner. According to Abramowski, author of “Państwo i prawo” [The state and the law], the moral revolution was supposed to result in new man coming into existence. After all the idea of “new man” is a Christian idea par excellence. Saint Paul taught the Ephesians: “as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Abramowski thus referred directly to one of the basic concepts of Christianity. A new man – he continued – has a “new conscience”. This is yet another idea with roots in Saint Paul’s teachings. As he writes in the Epistle to the Romans: “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.” (Romans 2:14-15). Conscience was a basic criterion for assessing every social transformation project for Abramowski. The ultimate aim of the thinker was to create a conscience that would lay the foundations for “spiritual communes”, “religion of brotherhood” and “ties of friendship”. This utopian idea also had religious origins as it represented another embodiment of the idea that the first Christian communities of “brothers and sisters” had adhered to.

Abramowski (1986) was well aware of a deep connection between his thought and Christianity. He believed that “collusion against the government truly reflects the teachings of Jesus” (p. 197) and that the “religion of brotherhood” could only be established if the belief in Christ was renewed. “In brotherhood lie the entire religion of Christ, the entire beauty and truth of life. (...) The religion of Christ is a religion of human brotherhood; a religion for which human harm is the only and greatest sin and a religion which not only forbids exploitation, oppression, vengeance and deception, but also demands sharing...” (p. 213-214). He regarded the Sermon on the Mount as the most revolutionary manifesto. He fought the discrimination of Polish language and faith, preaching the advent of the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Love, Freedom and Brotherhood, and requiring all those willing to join the “ties of friendship” to openly declare: “I, XY, hereby promise before God and my own conscience that I will henceforth avoid ever being selfish in my life, that I will never hurt others for my own sake, but – on the contrary – I will try to assist them whenever possible and practice the idea of mutual help in my life, and treat others as friends whose trouble and harm cannot be indifferent to me.” (1986: 254).

The liberalism of Solidarity?

My analyses show that Solidarity oscillated between messianism and socialism while its essence lay in gradually channelling the initial religious impulse into policy. This observation enables the analyses of Stawrowski and Ciżewska to be combined into a coherent whole. The strong religious aspect pointed out by the former author originated in the fact that Solidarity members were pushed outside the political and economic system, and they had to invoke messianism in order to become empowered. In turn, the ethical rhetoric studied by Ciżewska resulted from the attempt to make religion and morality a vehicle for a social movement that would could transform the social reality and present demands to the state.

Where is room for liberalism in this perspective? When religious and moral mottos triggered general mobilisation, Solidarity was able to challenge the Party. When stepping into politics, however, it had to change its language. It had to switch from a religiously moralistic language to that of negotiation and compromise. This particular aspect became the focus of Paweł Rojek’s interest. His view is largely shared by Karolina Wigura from “Kultura Liberalna” weekly (“Sen o pluralizmie” [Dream of pluralism]) and Maciej Onyszkiewicz from Klub Inteligencji Katolickiej (Catholic Intellectuals Club) in the text “Symbol dialogu” [Symbol of dialogue].[2] However, I do not find it justified to take such an approach, in which liberalism is regarded as the constitutive aspect of Solidarity rather than just one of many aspects. Liberalism would not be possible without the previous religious and moral motivation. In this sense, the authors presented the effect of Solidarity as its essence. Thinking along these lines, we could as well take Solidarity to be a conservative movement based on legalism and legal positivism (see Kuisz 2009). But the fact the lawyers of Solidarity (and, more generally, its members) invoked the law – which Ciżewska misinterprets as a link to republicanism – did not mean that they were conservatives but rather that they were increasingly capable of influencing state institutions, including state normative foundations, accompanied by the ongoing societal arousal. This could not be accomplished using the language of motivation and necessitated them employing a law-related language. In other words, religiousness and morality apply to the social movement whereas liberalism and conservatism apply to the negotiations of the social movement with the state. The latter characteristics are not the ones that form the essence of the movement.

Out of the three above-presented views, the transition from messianism, understood as previously described, to liberalism was most fully captured by Stawrowski (2010: 109) when he mentioned “all those who took on the burden of watching that the government stay within set limits: the union leaders, advisors, experts – participants of the never-ending disputes and negotiations with the representatives of the communist government. In a sense, those people whose names have been put into history textbooks forever, in comparison with the participants of the ‘First Solidarity’, had, by far, a more difficult access to its originary experience. Since the very beginning they were forcefully torn away from it. Lied to, misled, divided into better and worse, those people were taught a lesson of political thinking by the communist negotiators. However, it is thanks to them that the principle of a self-limiting – that is ethical and not political – revolution was successfully maintained in Poland for several months.”

At the end of the day it turns out that the differences between the three discussed theories of Solidarity result from the fact that the authors focus on – so to speak – different Solidarities. While Stawrowski describes the religious Solidarity, Ciżewska describes the moral Solidarity, and Rojek – the negotiating Solidarity. The prosaic reason behind this state of affairs is the fact that each author draws on a different kind of empirical material. Stawrowski refers to his own ethical experience and to religious texts. Ciżewska bases her analysis on the articulation of this experience in private comments whereas Rojek concentrates on official statements and discourse. The different sources concerning Solidarity thus prompt the authors to put different interpretations on it.

Theories proposed by the authors – except that of Stawrowski – have descriptive character, which not only makes them incomplete but also allows for hidden judgements to be passed. Rojek, instead of investigating where the liberalism of Solidarity comes from, hails it as a value per se. Ciżewska, on the other hand, uses republicanism as a positive reference point while never reflecting on the function it serves. Meanwhile, this kind of evaluative content – I believe – speaks more of the ideologies of the authors than that of Solidarity. There is a danger that liberals and republicans impose their interpretations of the social movement not to understand it more deeply but to better legitimise liberalism and republicanism. Solidarity, which mobilised masses thirty years ago, is thereby supposed to serve a present-day mobilisation. Liberalism and republicanism have become dominant ideologies, hence the fact that we refer to these two ideologies today. For the same reason references to messianism and socialism may appear exotic to us.

The new theory of Solidarity transcends the limitations of the rival theories. It presents a perspective that is integrating, flexible and dynamic. It integrates the existing research coverage into a whole. Instead of eliminating some aspects of Solidarity from its view, it aspires to fairly render these aspects. Finally, it sheds new light on Solidarity, formulating new research questions about it. Its central thesis, however, is simple. When the Party revisionists waited for their own Dubček, the Polish nation waited until it got a Slavonic pope. When the Party revisionists demanded socialism with a human face, the Polish nation created socialism with a divine face.


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[1] This can be tracked from their citing practices. Zbigniew Stawrowski included no reference to the studies by Ciżewska or Rojek. Elżbieta Ciżewska did not cite Stawrowski, and she referred only once – as far as I know – to Rojek’s work (though it is not listed in the index, Ciżewska 2010: 271). Rojek, who performed a titanic work over literature review, stands out against the other two. However, he translated the works by Stawrowski and Ciżewska into his own language, missing the fact that they actually compete with his view.

[2] See texts “30 lat po sierpniu” [Thirty years after August], Gazeta Wyborcza, 30 August 2010,76842,8305082,30_lat_po_Sierpniu.html?as=2&startsz=x

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