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It's the Party that's shooting

by MarekNYC Wed Dec 21st, 2005 at 03:34:08 PM EST

from the front page. Gierek replaced Gomulka on Dec. 20, 1970. On a slightly related note, see also Chris Kulczycki's diary: Polish Intelligence Official Confirms CIA Use of Polish Facility. Will the revolt against US hyperpower also start in Poland? -- Jérôme

On Friday, December 11 1970 the Politburo of the Polish Communist Party ordered a rise of ten to thirty percent in forty five basic groups of food items. In response, on Dec 14, the workers of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk went on strike, singing patriotic hymns and the Internationale. They elect a strike committee led by a young worker named Lech Walesa.  On December 17, with all the port cities of Poland in the grip of a general strike and demonstrations beginning elsewhere, the leadership of the Party orders the army to use force.  Demonstrators marching through the streets are met by armed police, soldiers and tanks. After they refuse to disperse the shooting begins.  The same scene was repeated in the other port cities.  The official casualty toll was 45 dead and 1165 wounded, among the wounded several hundred police and soldiers. The reverbations of the workers' revolt would eventually lead to the freedom of Eastern Europe and open the door to European unificiation.


In response to the price hikes the workers of the Lenin Shipyard gathered on the morning of Monday Dec. 15 in front of the management offices, demanding to speak to the head of the provincial Party committee. The management refused and ordered them to go to work.  They refuse and begin to sing - the national anthem, the song of the Communist resistance movement, patriotic religious songs, the Internationale.  A strike committee is organized, led by young workers. A flag with a red ribbon is hoisted up over the shipyards.  They then march onto the streets calling out  `come with us' to the city residents. Many join in, but most students famously don't, still bitter at the workers' hostility when their demonstrations were repressed in 1968. They are met by tear gas and are beaten by the police. The demonstrators respond with stones and Molotov cocktails.  The next day they march on the local Party headquarters. A panicked police officer begins shooting and the demonstration turns into a riot. The headquarters are trashed and burned as a helicopter evacuates senior officials from the roof.  Eight workers are killed in Gdansk that day.

The city is soon in the grip of martial law and a general strike. The movement also spreads to the other coastal cities of Poland. The most organized is Szczecin where every branch of the economy creates strike committees which in turn elect a general strike committee.  For a week that committee runs what is in effect a workers' republic


A meeting of the striking workers

On the morning of Dec. 17 the police open fire on workers walking to work in Gdynia. In Gdansk demonstrating workers are shot and crushed under tanks.  Street battles rage throughout the day, at the end the authorities regain control of the city.  In Szczecin the situation is similar but. here the workers are victorious. The next day there are more clashes and scattered strikes begin in other parts of Poland.  


Szcecin


Gdansk

On Dec. 20 an emergency meeting of the Central Committee dismisses First Secretary Wladyslaw Gomulka from power, along with four other senior Politburo members. The new leadership under Edward Gierek starts negotiations and promises to review the price increases and the actions of the authorities. Two days later the strike is over. However, the price increases are not repealed until new strikes occur in January and February, particularly among the textile workers of Lodz.

In the years that follow living standards rise with the help of massive Western loans. At the same time the leaders of the strikes are quietly fired and blacklisted. But after the oil crisis Poland's economic situation becomes difficult. A first attempt at new price rises is met by strikes in Lodz and Radom. Again, the price rises are repealed, strikers made to walk through police gauntlets, and the leaders blacklisted. Intellectuals and worker activists join together in the late seventies to plant the seeds of a new, organized opposition movement.  

When in the summer of 1980 strikes break out again, the workers know that they must avoid all violence and remain in their workplaces. They also realize that the only way they can guarantee a permanent voice for themselves is through free unions. One of their demands is a monument to the fallen workers of 1970.  They succeed and ten million Poles join Solidarity - about half the working age population.  The martial law and mass internment of Dec. 13 1981 forces the movement underground, but it does not break it.  By autumn 1988, faced with a catastrophic economic situation, and with no public support, the Party decides it must negotiate. The next spring comprehensive talks pave the way for democracy and a peaceful transfer of power to the opposition.  The new Soviet leadership makes it clear that it won't intervene.  With the Poland as an example of what is now possible, the populations of one country after another of the East Bloc stage their own peaceful revolts in the months that follow.  Over forty years of dictatorship comes to an end and the road to European unification is open.


The monument in Gdansk - three ship anchors inverted to appear as crosses

The title of this diary is taken from a song that would become an unofficial anthem of Solidarity.  I have vivid memories of listening to it in the early eighties, in concerts, at home, and at a mass demonstration in early 1982 in front of the Polish and Soviet embassies in Bern.

Boys from Grabówka, boys from Chyloni
Today the police opened fire
Bravely we stood, accurately we threw
Janek Wiśniewski fell

On a door we carried him along Świętojańska
In the face of the pigs, in the face of the tanks
[...]

The bombs sound, the gas spreads
Blows fall on the workers
Women, elderly, women fall
Janek Wiśniewski fell

One is wounded, another killed
Blood was spilled on a December dawn
It's the Party that's shooting at the workers
Janek Wiśniewski fell

Shipyard workers of Gdynia, workers of Gdansk
Go home, the battle is over
The world heard, and didn't say a thing
Janek Wiśniewski fell

Don't cry mothers, it wasn't for naught
The red banner above the shipyard
For bread and freedom, and a new Poland
Janek Wiśniewski fell

Janek Wiśniewski's real name was Zbyszek Godlewski. The photo of him being carried on a door in front of a procession of workers is the most famous image of December 1970.

For the Polish speakers at Eurotrib here's the original

Chłopcy z Grabówka, chłopcy z Chyloni
Dzisiaj milicja użyła broni
Dzielnieśmy stali, celnie rzucali
Janek Wiśniewski padł

Na drzwiach ponieśli go Świętojańską
Naprzeciw glinom, naprzeciw tankom
Chłopcy, stoczniowcy, pomścijcie druha
Janek Wiśniewski padł

Huczą petardy, ścielą się gazy
Na robotników sypią się razy
Padają starcy, dzieci, kobiety
Janek Wiśniewski padł

Jeden raniony, drugi zabity
Krew się polała grudniowym świtem
To partia strzela do robotników
Janek Wiśniewski padł

Krwawy Kociołek to kat Trójmiasta
Przez niego giną dzieci, niewiasty
Poczekaj draniu, my cię dostaniem
Janek Wiśniewski padł

Stoczniowcy Gdyni, stoczniowcy Gdańska
Idźcie do domu, skończona walka
Świat się dowiedział, nic nie powiedział
Janek Wiśniewski padł

Nie płaczcie matki, to nie na darmo
Nad stocznią sztandar z czarną kokardą
Za chleb i wolność, i nową Polskę
Janek Wiśniewski pad

Display:
'Will the revolt against US hyperpower also begin in Poland?', Jerome asks himself.

No. I have a much more modest view and will be happy if such actions and policies as recently seen in Poland and elsewhere (?) are not the beginning of a new sovietization, the total and unequivocal political subjection of the EU to the US. Don't panic, though, everyone can keep on shopping themselves to death. Just try not to pay attention to the foreign christmas music.

by Quentin on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 05:47:26 AM EST
Great diary.

Many join in, but most students famously don't, still bitter at the workers' hostility when their demonstrations were repressed in 1968.

Yeah, these internal divisions to overcome was something that captured me in Andrzej Wajda's film.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 07:33:54 AM EST
Fantastic diary Marek.

I'm just reading Timothy Garton Ash's "The Polish Revolution, Solidarity". I think it's the best English language work on the subject.

So I've been wondering about possible lessons the American Left could take from this period in Polish history. Any thoughts?

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz

by Chris Kulczycki on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 08:35:46 AM EST
I looked at some of his online books.  Not having read any of them I cannot offer much of an educated opinion, but one thing that I have noticed that has stuck with me is that he's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.  Is there any concern about this guy's conservative bias in writing history?

Some of the more notable "fellows" of this american right wing think tank also include:

    * Robert Bork, Distinguished Visiting Fellow
    * Dinesh D'Souza, Research Fellow
    * Milton Friedman, Senior Research Fellow
    * Newt Gingrich, Distinguished Visiting Fellow
    * Edwin Meese III, Distinguished Visiting Fellow
    * John Raisian, Director
    * Condoleezza Rice, Senior Fellow (as of this writing, June 2004, on leave to serve as National Security Advisor)
    * Peter Berkowitz, Research Fellow

Information from dKosopedia - http://www.dkosopedia.com/index.php/Hoover_Institution


Unlearn.

by Delphian on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 09:48:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ugh. Didn't knew. I only knew his tepid Atlanticist op-eds in the Guardian, and the opposed fame as a good historian.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 09:58:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he has written some pretty pro-European and anti-Bush stuff, and my memory is that he is a pretty respected scholar on Eastern Europe.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 10:11:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he has written some pretty pro-European and anti-Bush stuff

Yes, he did - but he always argued for close ties across the Atlantic, to the extent that it castrated the pro-European and anti-Bush points he made. As a result, his Bush criticisms could be compared to that of DLC Democrats, and his European vision wasn't confortable. (Back when I read the Guardian every day - 2003 -, I used to read every column of his - but after a while got enough of it.)

No comment on his credentials as historian.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 10:33:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
'No comment', as in: "won't dispute".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 10:33:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I used to read every column of his - but after a while got enough of it.)

Me too. Still, I don't think he's on a par with the other Hooverites listed above, ie he's more centrist.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 10:59:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think he's on a par with the other Hooverites listed above, ie he's more centrist.

Indeed, for a start, he has one leg in Europe, not trampling on Europe :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 11:24:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He's not really a historian, though he was trained as one and wrote a solid history of Germany's foreign policy as regards Europe - east and west - "In Europe's Name".  His true talent is in writing long essays on current events (much better than his Guardian columns). That's what his book on Solidarity really is, and you can't find a better description of the atmosphere of the Polish and Czech anti-communist opposition than in his essays collected in "Uses of Adversity"
by MarekNYC on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 11:37:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
TGA would qualify as a 'wet' Europhilic Tory in the UK, but not as a conservative in the US. He is also rather unthrilled with Blair for what he has referred to Blair playing the butler Jeeves to the bumbling Bush - except with less dignity and little influence. He called Bush's re-election a 'grisly result' in a column which compared black voters waiting in endless lines to the black voters who put an end to apartheid - only without the desired result.

Or read his piece on Bush's most recent trip to Europe:
To watch President George Bush in Brussels this week was to see how far Europe has to go if it wants to be taken seriously in the world. On the one side, you had Caesar. On the other, the prime minister of Luxembourg. And of Belgium. And the president of the European commission. And the European Union's high representative for foreign policy. And the commissioners for external relations and trade. And dozens of other heads of national governments, different European institutions and departments, all falling over each other to bask in the sunshine of that imperial presence they so often privately deplore.
[...]

Meanwhile, there was Caesar. Two hours before his keynote speech began, we filed through a shabby back entrance into the Concert Noble, a grand ballroom with crimson drapes, where the Belgian aristocracy still meet once a year for a bal de la noblesse. Gradually the front rows filled with ambassadors and minor dignitaries of the outer empire. A few American tribunes, prefects and great merchants were in evidence. A little later came the proconsuls, men of imperial gravitas, stately courtesy and crisp, regulation haircuts. All wore the Washingtonian toga: sober, dark suit and white shirt.

After a long wait, it was the time of the consuls and high imperial officials, including Condoleezza Rice. Buzz, buzz, went the crowd. Suddenly we found ourselves rising to our feet, led by the imperial household, only to greet Caesar's wife, Laura. A few minutes later, a voice from the loudspeakers announced: "The prime minister of Belgium ... and the president of the United States". We rose again, and there they were, the Belgian prime minister, with specs and floppy hair, loping in like some gangling, outsize schoolboy, and, flanked by his praetorian guard of secret servicemen, the US president, marching like an emperor: Tom and Jerry.

The Agony and Extase

I don't think his Hoover colleagues would approve.

by MarekNYC on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 11:16:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent and stirring account, Marek, thanks.

I'd forgotten about the student/worker split, by which I mean I'd forgotten it existed in Poland too.

I was wondering if it might have served to hasten the decline of the Party if the students had joined in? But then, perhaps the fact that this was a revolt of the Party's (supposed) base of heavy industrial workers made the movement so exemplary. A paradigm of the approaching fall of Communism.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 11:18:49 AM EST
Marek, Your account of what happened in Poland 25 years ago is stirring and inspiring. If I am corect, you live in NYC. What is going on in the U.S.A. today? And I don't mean the transit strike. Your accounts of Solidarity are history and slowly entering the realm of folklore. May the Poles flourish. But what is going on in the city where you live, the country where you live? Tell us. Don't you get it? What Solidarity struggled against has reared its head again and all of Europe will have to deal with it: either accept or reject it. That is the reality we are going through at this moment, or am I wrong?
by Quentin on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 02:34:10 PM EST
I find history worthy of remembering in and of itself, but I'm not to into looking at it for 'lessons'.  

American democracy is in the worst shape it has been in my memory. But is it really worse than during the Cointelpro era, or Germany in the seventies? It depends on how exactly you define things, what you focus on.  Certainly not worse than McCarthyism, or the Red Scare of the post WWI period, or France in the late fifties.

So yes it is bad, yes we should be upset, yes we should be worried, but we also shouldn't exaggerate. This is not Poland c. 1970, let alone Germany in 1933 or the Poland of the first postwar decade.  There is significant pushback from the media, not enough, but much more than there was at the start of the 'War on Terror' when a WaPo frontpage story about the US adopting a torture policy sank without a trace. We are also seeing some resistance from Congress - remember that the Patriot Act originally passed with only one negative vote, last week over forty opposed it. I don't expect that to have any practical effect in the immediate term since the Administration has made its utter contempt for the law crystal clear, but it may well over the next decade. So I'm actually much more optimistic than I was just a year or two ago. The way I see it each of the periods of government overreach in America was followed by greater freedom. Let's hope it will this time as well.

by MarekNYC on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 05:34:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But is it really worse than during the Cointelpro era, or Germany in the seventies?

Hm, there was Rasterfahndung in response to terrorism, and some street clashes, but I don't recall reading of the equivalent of a Guantanamo or laws as sweeping as Guantanamo or democracy as hollowed out.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Dec 20th, 2005 at 06:46:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
DoDo, I was thinking of the quality of the democracy itself - civil liberties, rule of law, etc., i.e. the consequences of the Bush admin's various abuses for American democracy and US citizens. For the most part Guantanamo has only an indirect effect - it reinforces the lawlessness but the treatment of foreign combatants and terrorists (and the unlucky innocents wrongly suspected of falling into those categories) does not directly impact American civil liberties.

In the case of West Germany what I was thinking of was the Notstandgesetz of 1968 and, especially, the Radikalenerlass of 1972. The latter provided for an investigation by the Verfassungsschutz of the politics of anyone applying for a job in the public sector - particularly Beamte level posts but to a lesser extent also Angestellte and Arbeiter. The practical effect was that if as a callow first year university student you signed up for some radical group you could be banned for life from any employment. Of the two matters you mention I was only thinking of the Rasterfahndung.  Street clashes are not in and of themselves indicative of any anti-democratic action by the authorities.  

It is worth remembering that these measures were initiated before terrorism really began - it was a response to the extra-parliamentary left in general.

by MarekNYC on Wed Dec 21st, 2005 at 02:54:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Guantanamo... does not directly impact American civil liberties

I do not agree on this. The question is, are American civil liberties only for US citizens, or any human being getting in touch with US authorities? The Bush admin clearly tries to argue the former, but the original US-American sense of universality would demand the latter.

The practical effect was that if as a callow first year university student you signed up for some radical group you could be banned for life from any employment.

In the public sector. But if I am not mistaken, the recent diary on the NSA-caused job loss indicates similar powers by US federal authorities. In fact, the ability to cause job loss of members of marginal political groups (whether through explicit laws or implicitely through their powers, I don't think really matters) seems a long-running trait of US federal law enforcement agencies. I don't know enough for a practical consideration, tough - how many members (or suspected members) of the APO were affected (i.e. actively rejected or fired) by these measures?

It is worth remembering that these measures were initiated before terrorism really began - it was a response to the extra-parliamentary left in general.

Good point - and a worthy reminder for the anti-terror legal-tough-guying prevalent today (in the USA as well as across Europe).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Dec 21st, 2005 at 09:35:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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