A year of Solidarity
Poles seem subdued as they mark the first anniversary of Poland's profound worker revolution. Economic chaos is taking its toll on the national spirit. there is no wild celebration in the streets. But today's sober mood need not rule out a pause to reflect on the depth and breadth of the changes that have taken place this past year. Who would have thought in those dangerous days of August 1980 that the worker strikes at the Gdansk shipyards would lead to such a far-reaching transformation of Polish society? And that the Soviet Union, for all its fears, would permit the revolution to go forward? Surely this is evidence of mankind's slow but inexorable progress toward freedom -- and cause for quiet rejoicing.
The Polish reform movement seems to go from one unthinkable achievement to another. The gains in a once dogmatically communist country are impressive: establishment of a free industrial trade union, democratic election of the party leadership, formation of a private farmers' union, a more open and lively press, greater authority for parliament, radio broadcasts of Roman Catholic services, a five-day work week, more academic freedom for students and universities. And, all taken together, a rekindling of Polish self-respect.
How much farther can the reformers take Poland? Every revolution has its radical elements and the Polish movement is no different. The strikes, threats of strikes, and constant confrontations between Solidarity and the government indicate that the struggle for power goes on -- within the union as well as between the union and the authorities. The party, for all the democratic changes, remains weak and vulnerable. The government, too, is still mistrusted. In this climate the extremists in Solidarity are pressing for virtual undoing of the communist system -- an objective many Poles regard as foothardy given tne nervousness in Moscow.
After all that has taken place, Westerners have learned to temper their judgments about the threshold of Soviet tolerance. Yet there cannot but be a feeling of concern and a sense of relief whenever it appears that Solidarity's moderate leadership has taken the upper hand. Indeed many reformers in the political center believe the time has come to consolidate the gains won, to cooperate with the government on the disputed economic reform, and to get with the urgent business of reviving the prostrate economy. For the moment there are in fact encouraging signs that radicalism is losing out to moderation. The powerful Roman Catholic Church, carefully acting as a balance between state and Solidarity in order to preserve national stability, now appears to be weighing in on the side of union cooperation with the government.
The first national congress of Solidarity takes place this month and will be watched for a sign of Poland's future direction. All those in Poland and abroad who see dangers in continuing economic anarchy and potential social unrest will hope that the moderates, including the leadership of Lech Walesa, succeed in their effort to engage the government in "dialogue and negotiation" rather than confrontation. There are legitimate differences of opinion over proposed economic reforms, including decentralization of industry. These can be honestly debated. But unless Poles of all ideological views begin to work together, the victories won may have little chance to bear concrete fruit.