The Solidarity Project (Interview)
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30

Mateusz Ciołkowski: Doctor, I would like to start with the following issue. In recent years, numerous works, dealing with the legacy of Solidarity, including your book entitled Crossing Modernity.The political project of the Solidarity social movement [Przekroczyć nowoczesność. Projekt polityczny ruchu społecznego Solidarność] have appeared. The works were written by young researchers. My question is: what is the source of this phenomenon? What is Solidarity to you?

Dr Krzysztof Mazur: In my case, which I explain in the introduction of the book, the inspiration was very clear. When I was a student, at one of the meetings where Dariusz Karłowicz was giving a speech, I heard a statement that the Polish academic world is postcolonial also in the sense that we write many more works on Western heritage than Polish. There was a comparison made then, that it looked a bit as if someone in Kazakhstan wrote about Mickiewicz, and forgot about the entire local heritage. Then, I decided that this was truly an issue worth a second thought.

When I was looking for what I could do in terms of research, and I was also observing my colleagues who planned their doctoral studies, and I saw that there is a tendency which is associated with a certain global science system we are part of. It is a system in which foreign publications and grants gain increasingly greater significance. If you want to apply for international grants, and you write in your application that it pertains to the issue of Tocqueville, it is more understandable for the reviewer on the other side than if you want to work on the issue of Kuroń. In this way, the native legacy is rendered secondary and hardly anyone works on it. As a result, we do not understand the things we grew out of. Still, the real task is to be able to look at the native heritage in a broader, global context.

And so the choice fell on Solidarity?

If someone looks at what was exceptional and extraordinary in our heritage in the twentieth century, then, obviously, Solidarity is one of the first choices. It is unique globally. One can always argue in terms of numbers that this is the largest social movement in history. However, for me it is unique, primarily, because, in order to understand it, one must reject some intellectual assumptions, especially those connected with the liberal paradigm of thinking about the individual and society. When someone reads too many texts of Isaiah Berlin and John Rawls, then it becomes difficult for him to understand what was going on in Solidarity. And it has its own cultural context. When I present a thesis at international conferences, I see that people from Mexico, Spain, South America or Italy understand this better than Anglo-Saxons. Solidarity simply differed from liberal paradigms in its thinking about politics, individual or community.

I would like to ask you about the contemporary context, because every year, when we celebrate the anniversary of the August agreements, direct participants of this movement indicate that it was unique experience for them; they say that back then, it had a great importance for them - spiritual, intellectual and political - but on the other hand, there is a common conviction that this heritage has been lost to some extent. What do you think this is due to?

In my opinion, this is due to the fact that after 1989, in the economic dimension, Poland was included in the global economic system whose symbol may be the Washington Consensus. In the political dimension, we quickly aspired to become part of the international political order, which was meant to be the membership in NATO and the European Union. It was associated with the adoption of a specific concept of the rule of law, an individual, community, and liberal democracy. Finally, we have been included in a specific cultural context, strongly inspired by the heritage of the Enlightenment, combined with a certain model of political correctness and postmodernism.

All these three big mill wheels - political, economic, cultural – were working with a different dynamics than that which was in force in Poland in 1980-1981, when ‘Solidarity’ was created. As a result, these wheels proved to be much stronger than our heritage from eight years before. Especially since it resulted more from experience than from a clear intellectual vision, and Western models were much better thought out in this respect. Therefore, it is not surprising that the ‘wheels’ dominated during the Polish transformation and so little of the ‘August heritage’ was eventually preserved in the Third Rzeczpospolita. If we wanted to include it in one tweet, we would probably say that, after 1989, ‘Solidarity’ lost to Lock and Schmitt in politics, to Friedman in economy, and to Derrida or Foucault in culture (laughs).

This could be seen later in very specific things, shown, among others, by Witold Kieżun, who wrote about the dysfunctions of the Polish transformation. He describes the context in which Jeffrey Sachs was convincing Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik, important intellectual leaders of ‘Solidarity’, to apply a specific shape of economic reforms, and they replied that they didn’t understand what was happening there, but they generally liked the direction. There was no courage or time to look at what the Union had wanted to do in the economic sphere before, what the intuition of the ‘Self-Government Republic’ was, what Stefan Kurowski, an important adviser to the Union, was striving to achieve, and what Ryszard Bugaj wanted to do, and then juxtapose these two worlds. The Western model was accepted without reservations, which was well described by Professor Zdzisław Krasnodębski in ‘Peripheral Democracy’ [‘Demokracja peryferii].

Exactly, this economic aspect is very interesting, because in the 1980s, we also had thinkers and publicists who, similarly to Stefan Kisielewski, criticised Solidarity for not wanting to fight socialism, but, in fact, the party. I would like to ask you what vision of the economic order emerges from this project? The documents that you quote in your book, on the one hand, include postulates which were quite burning from the perspective of participants in this process (an increase in salaries, decent pay and work). Still, on the other hand, postulates supporting the socialisation of enterprises were also brought forward. I am just wondering how you would describe the difference between the then economic model and what ‘Solidarity’ was suggesting.

Do you mean the difference between what real socialism looked like and what trade unionists suggested?

Yes, you could put it this way.

First of all, we must start with the thesis that Solidarity did not have a coherent economic programme, the best proof of which is that in the autumn of 1981, during the Congress of Delegates, the document of the ‘Programme Resolution’ was coherent until specific economic ideas appeared. Three options were proposed: realistic, motivational and alternative. It showed that, in that area, they were not a homogeneous movement; they had different ideas. It can be said that one economic vision wasn’t formed before the introduction of the martial law and it is a certain flaw of Solidarity.

What was the difference? Marx once noted that there is an imbalance between work and capital, because we are dealing with the private nature of capital and the social nature of work. In order to eliminate this difference, capital must also be socialised. This is to be done with the help of the creation of a state-owned economy system, administered by the Communist Party, representing the interests of workers. Professor Leszek Nowak from Poznań, an extremely colourful figure who used Marxism to criticise the Polish People's Republic, while publishing very much in the Solidarność press, noted that Marx had not foreseen one very simple thing. With the establishment of the Communist Party, this disproportion will not disappear, it will just change its nature: there will be no private exploiters, because former capitalists will be replaced by the party nomenclature. The balance between capital and work will not disappear, but will change its nature.

Solidarity wanted to answer this in the basic idea of the ​​‘Self-Government Republic’, saying: “Good. In this case, we want real socialisation, let directors in workplaces be chosen by employees themselves, rather than by the party. Still, we will not interfere in the issue of the change of ownership, that is, the state will remain the owner”. We are still dealing with a central economic plan, but the way of appointing directors has changed. If it could have been implemented en masse, then, there would simply be a workplace in which the director would report to the crew, and at the same time, while he would report on the implementation of the central plan to the senior officials in Warsaw. In other words, the director of a coal mine exporting coal at a reduced price to the Soviet Union would not be able to say, “It's not profitable, let's look for customers in West Germany”. He wouldn’t be able to do this. Therefore, the postulate of democratisation in workplaces gave vent to some emotions (employees could replace a bad director) but it was not an economically realistic answer to the problems existing at that time.

Thus, an open question remains for historians of ideas, such as myself: what would have happened if this process had continued? I assume that it would have moved towards even greater tensions between specific workplaces and the central plan. And this, in my opinion, would have led to such a conclusion that the assumptions of the centrally planned economy would have finally been rejected, but the owners of enterprises would not have become, as it happened after 1989, under the 'Wilczek' Act and the Washington Consensus, those who had capital in Poland, i.e. the party nomenclature, or foreign capital, which entered the country and bought a lot of enterprises at a reduced price. There would have been a so-called employee privatisation model.

How would this employee privatisation have ended?

It’s hard to say. However, we have specific examples. Since 1959, there was the ‘Elwro’ production plant in Wrocław, which specialised in the production of electronic devices and computers. In 1993, they were privatised and sold to a German corporation. The corporation, in turn, considered the production unprofitable and liquidated the factory, demolishing most of the production halls. ‘Elwro’ would have had a better chance of survival if they had been taken over by employees. Another example is a printing house in Kwidzyń, which was bought by International Paper. In an interview with the Journal of Business Strategy in 1993, one of the IP directors stated that it was an investment of his life, because he acquired a well-equipped factory with a qualified crew and a large internal market, for a quarter of its real price. Would the crew in Kwidzyń have coped with management if it had been employees who had become its owners? I don’t know, but, most probably, there would have been a much greater chance that this process would have run in a more ‘solidaristic’ way. This is a brief assessment of the weakness and the strength of the project and how the political transformation would have developed if the ideas from the early eighties had been implemented.

In the book, you devote a lot of attention to another anthropological vision in thinking about work.

In the ‘Solidarity’ movement, the work was treated in a different way than in liberalism. This can be read in Tischner’s and Wojtyła’s works, e.g. Laborem exercens, or authors from the left side, who referred to Abramowski and others. In a nutshell, the liberal vision of a man operating on the free market is a vision of his commodification, ultimately leading to the situation when a man, his talents, know-how, are simply a commodity that can be managed in a more or less effective way. In the case of twenty-first century capitalism, it is not only about simple needs, but also about the commodification of spiritual needs. The MacBook is not just a computer anymore, it expresses our creativity, our way of being, which is reflected in the advertising slogan from the past years: ‘Think different’. The goods express our entire identity in a certain way and, thus, involve our emotions, our personality. This commodification is not only implemented at the level of our work, but also in the aspect of consumption. In this way, modern capitalism has led not only to the objectification of work, but also of who we are, how we think about ourselves.

Tischner, Wojtyła, Kuroń and Abramowski had radically different thinking. All of them agreed that work is a certain expression of the genius of a man, and even the simplest physical work has primarily a metaphysical element in it. Some will say that this is a metaphysical element resulting from the fact that simply the world has been given to us and we, in the name of the Creator, have to develop it and do some good through our work, express ourselves in active changing of the world. For Abramowski, it will be more of ethical revolution, understood in such a way that, in work, the most important thing is that you act together with others. The whole idea of ​​cooperatives from the early twentieth century was based on the principle that people who do simple things like building houses or producing food, give one another a very important value, because ultimately, food gives people life, while housing ensures security of the family. And this cannot be commodified, because then, the most basic necessity for people will become an object of a market game and people will become merely objects for one another.

Solidarity, therefore, was striving to see people in cooperatives gather in dozens of families and set up some kind of an enterprise that does not work for profit, but in order to provide a concrete social need, which is a roof over the head. In this way, we get a roof over our heads without having to pay huge margins to developers, and, then, pay the mortgage for 30 years, which, at some point, makes us prisoners. These are all difficult topics, because these cooperatives were appropriated by the Polish People's Republic. In the Second Polish Republic, approx.. ten million people worked in various cooperatives, which means that, in reality, people had a natural tendency to solve economic problems through cooperation rather than with the help of the market. It was a gene of Poles, and it was amazing. The People's Republic of Poland simply ‘chewed’ it and it became appropriated by the state-ruling party. The market entered this reality in 1989 and said that the remains of the cooperative are now to be replaced by the relationship of an individual and private entity. And so we have the Third Rzeczpospolita with a huge housing problem, very aptly described by Filip Springer in ‘Thirteen floors’.

And how did the adoption of this vision look from the historical perspective? How did workers respond to it?

For me, this is one of the most interesting things in Solidarity, to which I return several times in my book. The whole project did not come out of a consistent reading of theoreticians, but only from certain experience. This experience is difficult to describe, because the social sciences can somehow explore, describe a man in his external manifestations of life; this is a behavioural element. But what if, at some point, we want to understand what is going on in a person? Sociology, and even psychology, is helpless then. That's how it is with Solidarity. We see the willingness to discuss public issues; slogans that say that it's not just about bread and butter, but also about dignity. Many such elements can be seen in rhetoric or behaviour; it becomes apparent that something important, exalted has happened in people, but why it happened in them, remains unknown. And why, at the same time, the same people experienced something very strongly, and after years it is merely a memory of some experience for them? Why do they feel, at some point, that they will be limited in their ambitions, and at the same moment, there are much fewer self-restrictions?

Trying to describe it on scientific grounds, we must face the whole ‘baggage of the Enlightenment’, which emphasises rationality so much as if the whole history of ideas or political thought consisted in creating concepts by theoreticians. It’s based on the vision of a human being as a rational being who seeks inspiration to act in political treaties. According to this scheme, the change takes place in the library, when an individual suddenly says, “Well, I've thought of Marx so far, but now I'm convinced by three arguments from Friedman’s works and now, out of the sudden, I'm going to think the way Friedman does”. And this just doesn’t happen this way. Rather, people experience something and their thinking justifies the experience. So, for example: when someone was dismissed from work and felt the whole brutality of the situation, he has to remodel his thinking under the influence of this experience of loneliness, the enormous power of the market, the superiority of capital over work etc. And only then can he assume such vulgarised free-market thinking of this ‘dog-eat-dog’ world; not because he read Hobbes, but rather because he experienced it very brutally. These are matters which were strongly emphasised by Solidarity’. And this is interesting, because this experience makes us powerless against thinking in the category: “Well, let's go back to the ideals of Solidarity”. Powerlessness consists in the fact that returning to the ideals of Solidarity would have to mean that people suddenly re-experience what they had experienced in the late 1970s. It is very difficult to plan. Many elements had to appear simultaneously so that people in the Shipyard would wish to go out to the concrete mixers and have a discussion. It really was something that was flowing from their hearts.

Here, we see an interesting field for reflection on the political nature of Solidarity. Does the historical and ideological perspective allow us to understand the non-violence nature of Solidarity? There are intellectuals who indicate that it has its source in a deep trauma of being a victim of brutal violence, beginning with the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and later, in subsequent pacifications prepared by the communist authorities.

Definitely, the tradition of non-violence is very strongly related to what we have talked about before, namely: experience. There is a great transcript of the meeting of the Union leaders from March 1981, during which the reaction to the so-called Bydgoszcz provocation (when several important activists had been beaten) was discussed. It is one of the most dramatic moments before the introduction of martial law, as an open conflict with the authorities in the form of a general strike was looming. Therefore, a meeting was held in order to discuss the issue of a potential organisation of a nationwide general strike, which would mean pushing the communists to the corner, and this, in turn, would bring about huge losses for the economy. In March 1981, Solidarity probably still had such a mandate to make this kind of a decision. Would this have led to bloodshed? Or, on the contrary, would the communists have given in and started organising political pluralism, for example, by agreeing to partially free elections to the Sejm? We don’t know it.  

We know, however, from the transcripts of the conference that Jan Olszewski, an opponent of the general strike, took part in it. In his speech, he mentioned the sacrifice of the Warsaw Uprising. “We are deciding here about an issue that has a historical dimension. And the second thing is that we are deciding here about an issue whose margin of risk is so wide that it creates a mortal danger for this country and for this State”. He concludes his thought with the following statement: “I know that today, in this hall, there could be many of them [insurgents] who are not here, and I know why they are not here. Please remember this when making your decisions”. It was very important that Solidarity was established by thirty-year-olds. On the one hand, they had strength and social trust. On the other hand, as they were born in the 1940s, they hadn’t actively participated in the armed struggles of World War II, they hadn’t taken responsibility for the Uprising. At the same time, they were brought up in the shadow of all these cruel events. Their parents and uncles told them all about these tragic developments.

Yes, I do believe that non-violence is primarily an experience, but, on the one hand, it was connected with the language of Catholic social teaching of John Paul II, who urged people: “Overcome evil with good”, but, on the other hand, with a certain leftist tradition that has clearly come to a breaking point in 1968. This can be seen in the prison records of Kuroń who noted that in the 1970's, he had discovered that the language of the revolution connected with violence was not the language to which his community wanted to refer to. The 1970s are clearly the time when the left-wing people, which subsequently created Solidarity, abandoned the language of the revolution understood in the Marxist manner, thus wishing to depart from the party. They wanted to be leftists, but the ones who speak differently about the revolution.

The republican element, in which the central concept is the idea of the common good, is very often raised in contemporary analysis of Solidarity. How do you evaluate these attempts?

The problem with republicanism is connected with what I have said at the very beginning of our conversation. However, as an intellectual tradition, it remains strongly involved in certain ideological transformations of the Western world. And so, when we start to use this term, I do not know if it explains, or rather obscures the picture. There is no doubt that when we look at certain elements of this heritage, we will definitely find them in Solidarity. Not to mention that Bronisław Świderski wrote a book entitled Gdańsk and Athens [Gdańsk i Ateny], in which he described the situation in the Shipyard in the light of ancient Greece. But I do not know if it is necessary to reduce Solidarity to the mere idea of republicanism. The costs associated with potential misunderstandings may exceed the profits.

And what about the perspective of Polish republicanism of the era of the First Rzeczpospolita?

When describing Solidarity, we try to use various ‘moulds’. And so, we will have, for example, an anti-communist ‘mould’. Now, Republicanism is such a mould. Of course, some elements are similar, but doesn’t the mould still leave many elements outside? Why just lose what stays outside?

The only answer which comes to my mind is that it’s easier to create a small ‘pill’ for the Western world, which will be easily digested by it. We want Solidarity’ to be understood by the West, but we don’t know how to explain it and so, we use the Republican perspective. Potentially, all those who are dealing with this trend in thinking in the world, will be interested in this interpretation. Therefore, perhaps this is a good strategy for disseminating knowledge about Solidarity. However, we must be aware that such a strategy has its limitations.

It is better to talk about Solidarity’s republicanism than anti-communism, because anti-communism, by definition, is largely a closed topic. In this case, we reach for Solidarity only when we think about how to bring about the collapse of subsequent authoritarian regimes. In the 1990s, there was such a tendency: Solidarity was only mentioned when somebody from the East came with a visit. So they asked how to overthrow the authoritarian system, and later: how much Solidarity is there, for example, in the Orange Revolution and, then, in the Arab Spring. The language of republicanism is better because it speaks about a certain positive shape of the political system, also after the collapse of the authoritarian system. Therefore, it is a better language, because it can inspire Americans, the French or British in discussions about their state shape, if they would like to draw on the tradition of Polish republicanism. In this sense, I believe that this frame, the mould, if you will, is wider and better than the anti-communist one.

However, in an internal discussion, however, I will still insist that one can speak about the common good, about the experience of politicalism, about the fact that the individual is not at the centre, which is the case in liberalism, but is always expressed in broader terms without referring to the word ‘republicanism’.

Would Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik (if you allow me to use such illustrative examples), who were important people in this movement, have concluded back in 1980 that they were Republicans? On the other hand, would Ludwik Dorn and Antoni Macierewicz, who created the ‘Voice’ [‘Głos’] circles, have labelled themselves ‘Republicans’? In their texts, I do not find any republican overtones.

There is a very interesting part of Oriana Fallaci’s interview with Lech Wałęsa; the interview was recorded before the introduction of martial law. The Italian journalist asks him if he considers himself a Eurocommunist, and he replies: “I reject the method of expressing myself by their terms” - their terms, the terms of this bad West – “... their labels: right-wing and left-wing, capitalist and communist, Christian Democrat and Luxembourgian. I express myself with my own ideas: good and bad, better and worse, and I say: what serves people, is good, and what does not serve them, is bad”.

Exactly, it sounds terribly populist, as usually is the case with Wałęsa, but it perfectly reflects thinking in terms of “let’s focus on values, actions, let’s not waste time thinking about how to fit them in the world of classic terms”. A man who thinks in terms of solving real problems, can say: “here, I like the free market, and there - the statism”. Others may say: “you have to take sides: do you support the right- or left-wing, moral progress or conservatism?”

Solidarity does not fit into these simple categorisations. Huge systems in which the economic interest coexists with a certain ideological vision, have come to an end. Oriana Fallaci is much more archaic in her questions than Lech Walesa, because she thinks in terms of nineteenth-century modernism.

In the context of the discussion on the values of Solidarity, the special role of the Catholic Church is underlined. How does it look from your perspective?

There is no doubt that the role of the Church was huge. First of all, I see this in the celebrations of the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland. This was the moment when Primate Stefan Wyszynski came up with a project which, of course, was religious in nature, but it also had enormous political and social effects related to overcoming the barrier of fear. The readiness of people to take part in receiving copies of the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in their towns and villages was extremely significant. It triggered the commitment of secular people.

As a result, they carried out the strike in a completely secular reality, which was the Shipyard, but representatives of the clergy were invited to it. I put a lot of emphasis on the activities of Primate Wyszyński and the Millennium Celebrations, because I believe that John Paul II, of course, played an important role, but it was primarily international. It wasn’t that the year 1979 comes (the election of Karol Wojtyła as successor to Saint Peter) and then, immediately, we see the developments of August '80. To me, it's a long process which goes back to 1956, that is, the time of the Great Novena, and then 1966, and then, the work on all the events I have mentioned earlier.

On the other hand, if we are to refer to the First Rzeczpospolita and the world of the Nobles, first of all, we must remember that it is a completely different Church; the Church, whose elites were aristocratic, which was not obviously a bastion of Polishness in the 19th century. A part of the higher clergy disapproved national uprisings, organised against the partitioning States. The situation changed in the 20th century. Primate Wyszyński also changed it; his project was focused on emancipation and people; it included peasants, and then residents of blocks of flats, in Polishness through Catholicism. Later Archbishop Przemyski Tokarczuk became famous due to the fact that, with the help of the whole village, he could build a church overnight.

Enclosing, as you are a person who has dealt with the issue of Solidarity for a few years, I would like to ask you the following question: what has been preserved from this heritage for you personally, in the intellectual, social and political sense, that we can use or think about nowadays?

A lot. In a way, my thinking about public life is the result of my book or the result of thinking about Solidarity. This is also the reason why I do not feel comfortable carrying out disputes about ideologies or parties, because I try to look at it the way Solidarity did. I try to look primarily at values, people, specific problems, instead of thinking in terms of great ideological projects.

Maybe I should add one more thought. The liberal project in which we live, is a project based on an extremely negative vision of human nature. Liberalism with Hobbes sees in man his misery, evil, and the fundamental question is how to build a political and social life, so that people would not kill each other. My vision is Christian. The man is divided inside, he is situated between the greatness of creation similar to that of God, and at the same time, he is strongly tainted with original sin. In my opinion, this is an appropriate description of human nature. Thanks to this, we notice that in a man, there is a possibility of greatness, but also tawdriness. Solidarity is perhaps an exaggerated emphasis of this greatness due to the experience of this effusion, but it shows that a man needs, also in social life, to have some element of sublimity in him, otherwise he falls into nihilism, into degradation.

This is a very interesting question for the contemporary people: how to build a system that, on the one hand, will not be based solely on a negative vision of a human being, but on the other hand, will not perceive a man solely as an angel? How to build something that will also be able to eliminate flaws, and at the same time, will be able to support positive qualities in a person. I have the impression that the modern world, the world of the West, is experiencing its crisis because it has a programme-based premise in it: “A man is evil and we cannot do anything about it”. If a person hears this, he has no motivation to stop being greedy or using all possible means to gain power. On the other hand, the model of social life, where the second, better side of humanity would be clearly present, is an extremely inspiring task. And it's probably what I absorbed the most from the Solidarity heritage. How to build a world that will be based on an adequate vision of human nature?

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