The following is an eyewitness report on a major trade-union demonstration that took place in Warsaw last September.
Saturday was the culmination of four days of trade-union meetings and demonstrations in Warsaw organized by the three largest unions: Solidarnosc, OPZZ (All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions, the successor to the old state union federation under Stalinism, and generally in political alliance with the SLD—Union of the Democratic Left, successor to the former Stalinist ruling party in Poland whose parliamentary support hovers around 10 percent) and FZZ (Trade Union Forum), the smallest and least nationally visible of the three. Solidarnosc is a unitary union, the other two are federations.
On Saturday, the three unions marched from different parts of Warsaw to converge at a central point and then continued together past the president’s palace to the Old Town for a mass rally. Estimates of total numbers vary from anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000, which makes it the largest union demonstration since 1989. This was an all-Poland event in which the provinces were disproportionately represented due to the almost total erosion of industry in the Warsaw area since the capitalist counterrevolution. This made it easier for the bourgeois press to mount an insolent assault on the unions for essentially organizing a mass provincial outing to the capital with apparently no other aim than to disturb the peace and quiet of Warsaw—which is doing very well thank you—and has no need for anachronistic, selfish and corrupt trade unions.
Beginning in the south of Warsaw on Saturday morning, and intending to get to the OPZZ march (which came in from the west), required getting through the masses of Solidarnosc as they converged from different directions. They, like the other unions, were disciplined, marching in groups according to factories, mines, hospitals, etc. (unionization outside of the traditional sectors is negligible), and the police were (unusually) almost invisible. Solidarnosc members were marching under their union banners with few national flags and almost no banners with slogans. They were the working-class rank-and-file of the movement determined to show the government that they still counted. This was not the Solidarnosc of religious or political pilgrimages, but the trade union, and it was impressive. An old lady next to me at one point, waving a small Polish flag, said “so many of them, such power” with tears in her eyes. Of course the periphery was solidly right-wing with nationalist and ultra-Catholic newspapers and leaflets being distributed (not by the marchers), and I did see a small (fewer than ten) group of fascists dressed in black and carrying Celtic crosses being led into the demo by a Solidarnosc steward. No leftists of any shade would have dared to openly march here or distribute materials.
After getting to the west of the city center from where the OPZZ contingent was marching, I started to see familiar faces. The OPZZ march was also huge and made up of the rank-and-file but it seemed more subdued than Solidarnosc. Perhaps this was due to the fact that many in Solidarnosc have illusions that if the right-wing PiS (Law and Justice Party) wins the next election and “real patriots” take over the government, as happened in Hungary, then capitalism can be made to work for them, finally. OPZZ members can have no such illusions, and they know a PiS victory will mean another bout of anti-communist witchhunts and patriotic and religious fervor which will be directed at any forces deemed to be left, including OPZZ. Like a mirror image of Solidarnosc, the periphery of the OPZZ march was left-wing, not right. Of course not as well-financed, so no free newspapers.…
I came to the place where the “Anti-capitalist Bloc” was to join the OPZZ march—there were perhaps 150 people, and in contrast to the union’s march, they were heavily policed with intrusive filming, which is usual. They were chanting slogans such as “Fight, fight capitalism, fight, fight,” but the cops would not let them join the march. The trade unionists were neither carrying placards with slogans nor were they chanting. The Anti-capitalist Bloc was made up mainly of anarcho-syndicalists with a few other groups mixed in, and at the rear was a small contingent from the Polish Communist Party (KPP), a small Stalinist outfit. OPZZ marchers and stewards gave signs of solidarity with the Anti-capitalist Bloc, e.g., shaking hands with its organizers, and the police allowed the bloc to start moving into the demo.
At this point, however, one of the Anti-capitalist Bloc organizers stood in the way of the KPP and when the police intervened he told them the KPP were not part of the bloc, and so the police then held them back. Thus the KPP, with a huge red banner, were separated off from the bloc and left at the side. I expressed my solidarity to the KPP woman leader against the sectarianism and police collaborationism of the anarcho-syndicalists, and was joined in this by a Polish Spartacist. The KPP woman said that it had been agreed they could join the Anti-capitalist Bloc if they did not bring their hammer and sickle banner, which they accordingly had left at home, but to no avail.
The Spartacist said that Socialist Alternative [SA—section of the Committee for a Workers’ International], who had decided to march with the miners in the demo rather than separately in a bloc, would soon be coming by. SA/CWI had a red banner calling for a general strike (a call raised that day only by the OPZZ left periphery) and were known to have opposed the KPP’s ejection by other left groups from the 1 May parade in Wroclaw this year. I went over to the CWI comrades and told them what had happened and suggested the KPP could come in with them. The action of the Anti-capitalist Bloc was not only disgraceful, it was also dangerous for the KPP people as just the word “communist” in Poland, regardless of who claims the name, risks repression from the state and physical attacks from the right. While the KPP was waiting at the side of the march, I actually saw one union demonstrator spit at the KPP banner and others reacted with ridicule or aggression. Remember this was OPZZ, not Solidarnosc!
The CWI indicated they would have no objection, but there were just a few of them and they were themselves guests of the miners. I conveyed this to the KPP and they managed to join on, but after a few minutes the miners became very unhappy with their presence and told them to leave, which they did, their banner furled. Anti-communism is a key ideological mainstay of the Polish capitalist state and as such permeates many aspects of public life including the education system. Many leftists feel under pressure to prove that they are not tainted by communism. Perhaps this explains, though it cannot justify, the anarcho-syndicalists’ ejection of the KPP from the Anti-capitalist Bloc.
It is interesting to note that despite the allergic reaction that the overwhelming majority of Poles have to words such as communist or Bolshevik, there is considerable support for martial law under Jaruzelski in 1981. This is generally not, however, on the basis of opposition to capitalist restoration, but as a lesser evil—“the suppression of Solidarnosc was inevitable given the political realities of the time, so it was just a question of whether our troops would do it, or the Soviets.” The SLD also embraces this approach. Public discussion of the events of December 1981 flares up every year around the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, and it is ironic that most ostensible revolutionaries line up with the right in condemning the suppression of Solidarnosc’s counterrevolutionary leadership.
As the march continued, it became clear that it was going nowhere. With no slogans and no demands this had turned out to be (almost) what the capitalist press had claimed: a provincial outing to the capital. When we arrived at Zygmunt’s Column there was just empty talk from the union tops and plenty of nationalist and religious paraphernalia to buy. This mass of people with an anti-capitalist consciousness and a Bolshevik leadership would be more than enough to overthrow the system, representing as they do the mood of huge discontent throughout Poland. But without consciousness and leadership this energy will be dissipated as it has been before. Most on the Polish non-Stalinist left are outright hostile to Leninism. There is much to be done.