Mr Zenon Kwoka, Interfactory Strike Committee, assists Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa carried by the Gdansk shipyard workers in August of 1980. / Photo Courtesy of Mr. Zenon Kwoka/ Private Archives
Exactly thirty years ago this month Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarnosc movement, won the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, it was the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc – he explained. A group of workers listened to Walesa, who spoke from his apartment on the day when he learnt about news on the decision of the Stockholm Committee regarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc.“This is our prize, a recognition for all of us who are willing to pursue a non-violent path to truth via reconciliation” – he said in the ad hoc speech. He added that the Nobel Prize honored all of the Polish workers and also a nation because “Polish workers are not isolated”.
When Walesa was speaking at his window, Solidarnosc was delegalized.
Many families were mourning their loved ones killed on the streets or beaten to death by the communist police who had permission of the Communist Party to use any means to eradicate “subversive element”. Tens of thousands of activists were imprisoned or punished by military courts with “wolf ticket” that was permanent employment ban (some of them did not find work until the collapse of communism).
Such were laws of the Martial Law imposed to achieve only one goal: to destroy Solidarnosc. Some historians say that, in fact it was the end of Solidarnosc. Others together with leader Lech Walesa emphasized the role of the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc in reinvigorating the morale among the Polish people.
Information about the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc and Lech Walesa became available at my school. None of the teachers mentioned it. I do not recollect any of my classmates talking about it. I will never forget what I saw after the class break. On the main wall of the corridor was painted the red letter “S” in the form of an anchor symbolizing victory of Solidarnosc. Inside some of the windows, which consisted of two frames screwed together were small posters with the image of Walesa and the forbidden sign Solidarnosc. The Communist school principal did not hide her anger shouting for a service brigade to “refresh” the wall. Some of the brigade workers hurried to unscrew the window and took out the forbidden posters. During the next class break there was no trace of the subversive action. Images of posters and the Solidarnosc sign disappeared from the corridor but remained forever in child’s memory.
Polish people did not lose their fighting spirit although they were intimidated and lied to by the regime. They never resigned from struggle for their ideal.
Ideal, which united workers in thought and action
What was the ideal?
The decision of the Nobel Committee to grant the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc emphasized moral significance of the free unions movement born during Great Strikes in the summer of 1980 for Western nations lacking encouragement and motivation to fight with the Soviet Empire. If before the August of 1980 some naive intellectuals and shrewd politicians had believed that a communist state was ruled with the consent of workers, then after Polish Solidarnosc was formed nobody could have any doubt the workers were treated as a cog in the machine.
Striking workers were not fully understood in the 1980s by the journalists, who reported on these events. The major barrier was language and culture. Polish workers were Christians, who tried as much as they could to avoid any confrontation with incomparably stronger regime.
The late Professor Lawrence Goodwyn described the range and social depth achieved by Solidarnosc in his book Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity of Poland. “It was not intellectuals who played a causal role in origins and development of the movement” – explained Dr Goodwyn. He pointed at some of intelligentsia, who opposed the formation of free unions Solidarnosc. Dr. Goodwyn analyzed Solidarnosc as a social movement int historical context from 1945. Solidarnosc leader late Ms. Anna Walentynowicz appreciated his observations.
Probably the most accurate in his observation was French sociologist and lawyer Dr. Jacques Ellul. He said about Solidarnosc leader Lech Walesa: “He is strongly anti-reactionary, anti-capitalist. (…) He is indeed remarkably adept at not going too far and avoiding violence in the face of the power of the state. He speaks firmly but never insultingly. He is respectful of authorities, and the Communist party listens to him in proportion to this respect. He is respectful of authorities, and the Communist Party listens to him in proportion to this respect. He says, with a certain sense of humor, that the apparat is no worse than the rest! In other words, he reveals extremely rare political qualities and attitudes. To say that he is a charismatic leader is not enough. “
Ellul has no doubt where the source of Walesa and Solidarity’s charisma came from: “I am certain this comes from his Christian faith. I believe Lech Walesa to be the model of the Christian involved in politics. He represents everything the Christian faith should entail in a man in politics.”
Other leaders of striking workers in the Gdansk shipyard also emphasized the importance of the Christian worldview, namely personalism and justice.
“Laborers” – as one of the leaders of the Interfactory Strike Committee, Mr. Zenon Kwoka emphasizes – “demanded the pluralistic system, self-government for themselves”. They did not desire private ownership of production means – he adds.
“During strikes workers discussed management of their companies they thought they owned. They did not want capitalism but they did not want state monopoly either” – says Mr. Kwoka.
Strikes had its personalistic character: “unity among workers was an effect of thinking about the neighbor”. The Interfactory Strike Committee took responsibility for the whole nation. They became a powerful engine for an opposition, which was strengthened after the signing of agreements with the regime in August 1980.
When Solidarnosc fought its battle for truth, justice and dignity of the human person underground, in the other hemisphere a group of renowned economists were working on the economic system, which would meet the standards Polish workers set as the standard.
Economic System in the Spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc
American economist and lawyer Dr. Norman Kurland with his group of co-workers from the Special Presidential Task Force, were constructing a new economic paradigm. Its foundation was an ownership of productive capital for every man, woman and child. These American economists were aware of the danger that communists could overnight transform themselves into capitalists owning technology, land and money. (It happened so in 1989.) This is why they tried to encourage the Solidarnosc’ leaders so that they would focus on reform, which would influence distribution of future wealth. A plan of their economic reform was published and presented in Washington and Rome, Vatican, the cities where two friends of Polish Solidarnosc struggled to change the world. Today part of this reform is the Capital Homesteading.
From historical perspective one can admit that the new economic paradigm could have been a fulfillment of the dream of Polish workers about the real self-government and economic system, which is not a monopolistic capitalism or state monopoly. This idea led workers to strikes – said Mr Zenon Kwoka from the Interfactory Strike Committee.
Polish society bonded in unity of thinking and action informed by Christian worldview were attacked with fear and lies when the Communist regime imposed Martial Law in December of 1981. Mr Lech Walesa remarked that, although the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc strengthend morale, the final victory was incomplete.
Yes, after another eight painful years freedom was won.
Victory was not an award for many of those, who fought during the Great Strikes and were recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc in 1983.
New reality demanded a compromise. In effect the communists became capitalists, and freed workers became unemployed. It took two decades to level some of the drastic social inequalities.
This experience should serve as a lesson for the Chinese freedom fighters. News about drastic social inequalities, exploitation of the nation’s wealth by the privileged class and poverty as well as ruined environment is the sign of need for change of the rules in the game. There is a need for a new economic paradigm. It is ready to be implemented. Its authors called it the Just Third Way. It is also popularized under the name of Ownership for all.
It is not socialism – because it deals with the future wealth and it does not alter the rights of any current owner. It provides a second source of income, necessary mean of subsistence, especially when the economy can not produce enough jobs.
Chinese people, as any other nation, are in a need of broader ownership of productive capital for every man, woman and child.
The road to achieve this goal was designed. It is non-violent, embracing everyone – in the spirit of the idea, which was rewarded thirty years ago with the Nobel Peace Prize to Solidarnosc.
Tom Pompowski – journalist and publicist