Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968

Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968

Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968

Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968

Synopsis

Based on extensive use of primary sources, this book provides an analysis of Solidarity, from its ideological origins in the Polish "new left," through the dramatic revolutionary months of 1980-81, and up to the union's remarkable resurgence in 1988-89, when it sat down with the government to negotiate Poland's future. David Ost focuses on what Solidarity is trying to accomplish and why it is likely that the movement will succeed. He traces the conflict between the ruling Communist Party and the opposition, Solidarity's response to it, and the resulting reforms. Noting that Poland is the one country in the world where "radicals of '68" came to be in a position to negotiate with a government about the nature of the political system, Ost asks what Poland tells us about the possibility for realizing a "new left" theory of democracy in the modern world. As a Fulbright Fellow at Warsaw University and Polish correspondent for the weekly newspaper In These Times during the Solidarity uprising and a frequent visitor to Poland since then, David Ost has had access to a great deal of unpublished material on the labor movement. Without dwelling on the familiar history of August 1980, he offers some of the unfamiliar subtleties-such as the significance of the Szczecin as opposed to the Gdansk Accord-and shows how they shaped the budding union's understanding of the conflicts ahead. Unique in its attention to the critical, formative period following August 1980, this study is the most current and comprehensive analysis of a movement that continues to transform the nature of East European society. Author note: David Ost is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the translator of The Church and the Left: A Dialog by Adam Michnik.

Excerpt

It was one of the most interesting places in the world in the late 1970s -- that's how Poland seemed to me, anyway. The traditional state socialist system of the Soviet bloc was in desperate need of political reform, but only in Poland was there any real evii vidence of reform. Elsewhere change seemed precluded by the prevailing Brezhnev model of institutionalized boredom and stagnation. I had spent the fall of 1975 as an undergraduate exchange student studying in Moscow, and this was both an unforgettably enriching experience and enough to convince me that the USSR was not the place to return to if I was serious about studying political change in the Soviet bloc. I started learning Polish from a Russian textbook -- a kind of "Polish Made Easy" for Russian speakers -- and first visited Poland when my Moscow semester came to an end. A further visit in 1977 convinced me that this was precisely the place I wanted to understand up close.

What I found so interesting about Poland was the appearance of a very new kind of political opposition. Emerging from student circles of the 1960s, this opposition sought to build a new type of society, yet was well aware of all the troubles created by those who had tried to build new types of societies in the past. This was a new kind of radicalism, whose main asset was its very wariness of radicalism. It held out the hope of a democratic transformation that would result in a more participatory system than is common in the West, yet avoid the usual authoritarian traps into which radical movements have typically fallen in the past. The fact that the government tolerated the opposition, or at least refrained from using its full repressive apparatus against it, only made the situation more interesting. Poland seemed to be both in the forefront of political reform efforts in the Soviet bloc and a kind of test case for the possibility of radical political reform in general. For these reasons, I decided to focus on Poland in my graduate studies. By the time I finished my courses and was ready to begin "field work," Poland of course had become more interesting than ever, as Solidarity was founded in August 1980.

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