Strikers in Lenin shipyard, Gdańsk, 20 August 1980. Photo: Anefo / Nationaal Archief / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain Strikers in Lenin shipyard, Gdańsk, 20 August 1980. Photo: Anefo / Nationaal Archief / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

To mark the 40th anniversary of Solidarity in Poland, Jacqueline Mulhallen and William Alderson look at the rise of the movement, its struggle with the regime, and its collapse

Part One: The Rise
Part Three: The Collapse

Dual power

Our friend Alicja’s remark, ‘Look, we do all the work, and they take our money!’, expressed a conflict all workers recognise, and those in Poland knew at a deep level that they wanted to overthrow the regime, and as they increasingly exercised their strength, it created the unstable situation known as ‘dual power’ where it is uncertain whether the workers or the existing state have the upper hand.

In 1965 Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski analysed the Polish state and explained that the interests of the regime and those of the working class were fundamentally opposed, and that

The bureaucracy will not willingly give up to the working class even one złoty and, in conditions of economic crisis and lack of reserves, it has nothing to give up under pressure. In this situation, any large-scale strike action cannot but transform itself into political conflict with the bureaucracy. For the working class, it is the only way to change its situation. Today, at a time when the system is going through a general crisis, the interest of the working class lies in revolution: the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the present relations of production, gaining control over one’s own labour and its product, control over the production goals – the introduction of an economic, social and political system based on workers democracy.[1]

Kuroń and Modzelewski’s whole analysis perfectly described what drove events over the next 15 months, and this can already be seen in the Gdańsk ‘21 points’. While 14 of them concerned the conditions of workers, the other 7 addressed issues of economic policy and government, and directly challenged the regime. But if the workers understood ‘the interest of the working class’, their leaders, including Kuroń himself now, regarded revolution as simply not possible, and so actively sought a ‘self-limiting revolution’ in the form of a compromise with the regime.

The strikes spread

From 1 September 1980 strikes spread across Silesia (after 8 miners died in an accident) and elsewhere. Each area created its own MKS and negotiated the ‘21 points’ for themselves, often adding other demands, such as an end to Saturday working, which was particularly hated in the mines. In Mielec workers demanded the removal of Rzeszów Party First Secretary after he told aircraft workers there is ‘no need for independent unions’, and in Warsaw a newspaper report that none of the workers at Nowotko Mechanical Enterprises wanted free trade unions triggered a strike. The regime was increasingly on the run: 100 managers in Wrocław resigned during the month, and Party First Secretary Eduard Gierek was replaced by Stanisław Kania on 7 September, while the Party’s Politburo came under attack from district Secretaries at the Central Committee meeting early in October.

Meanwhile, representatives of 35 MKSs met on 17 September and established a single national union NSZZ Solidarność (Solidarity). Its Provisional National Commission was chaired by Lech Wałęsa. By early October, when Solidarity called the first nationally organised strike in the history of ‘People’s Poland’, its official membership was already 2.5 million,[2] that is, 20% of the industrial workforce of 12.5 million. The one-hour ‘warning strike’ was supported by hundreds of thousands – far more than had been officially called out. In Gdańsk all but essential services came to a halt, and in Katowice at least 100 mines and factories stopped work. In some areas even restaurants and cafés closed their doors for an hour. On the other hand, there were local leaderships who restricted the strike to a few workplaces, and at some Warsaw factories a single Solidarity member stood silently at the gates for an hour holding a Polish flag, with a hooter sounding the beginning and end of the protest.

“You mean television doesn’t lie anymore?” Photo: Voice of Solidarity

The church, which started religious broadcasting on state radio on 21 September (as a result of the Gdańsk agreement), sought early on to gain the support of both sides and to reduce the challenge to the regime. On 2 September, Cardinal Wyszyński commended the workers’ courage during the strikes, and priests were told to develop good relations with the new workers’ organisations, but on 24 September there was the first meeting of a permanent church-government commission, charged with ‘promoting co-operation and normalisation of the country’s unity’. During October the conference of bishops warned against ‘unwise’ action which might antagonise the Kremlin, and Cardinal Wyszyński and Party First Secretary Kania met officially for the first time.

Solidarity becomes legal

The next test of the relative strengths of the regime and the workers came with the registration of Solidarity’s statutes. On 24 October a judge unilaterally amended the draft to include reference to ‘the leading role’ of the Party before granting registration. Angry branches protested to headquarters in Gdańsk, with the result that Solidarity threatened a national strike on 12 November if the Supreme Court did not overturn this on appeal. The regime backed down, and the Supreme Court accepted Solidarity’s original statutes on 10 November. During the celebrations, Cardinal Wyszyński cautioned Wałęsa against engaging in political activity, and urged workers to show ‘patience’ and ‘understanding’. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General’s office drew up methods for attacking dissidents, and on 20 November Jan Narozniak (a volunteer Solidarity printer) and Piotr Sapieło (a junior civil servant) were arrested and charged with publishing this secret document after a security police raid of Solidarity offices.

Immediately, the massive Ursus tractor factory in Warsaw was occupied, and there were calls for a regional general strike demanding not only the release of the prisoners, sanctions against the Prosecutor-General’s office, and an end to harassment of so-called ‘anti-socialist’ activists, but also the trial of those guilty of the repressions of 1970 and 1976, and cuts in the security police budget. Over the next five days 20 factories struck, trams and buses carried union posters, and a general strike was announced for 26 November. After hasty negotiations, Narozniak and Sapieło were released, and the Solidarity leadership withdrew its support for strike action, urging members not to escalate claims in ‘the present strained situation’. Nonetheless, the strike continued at the Huta-Warszawa steelworks, insisting on progress on the other demands. Even Wałęsa, flown in from Gdańsk, was unable to halt the action, and it was only stopped when Kuroń was brought from his bed to negotiate a promise of talks on an inquiry into police methods. For the first time, the Solidarity leadership had restrained the power of the workers and protected the regime.

Independent action

By this time Solidarity’s membership was 5.5 million,[3] an average increase of 60,000 workers per day, and members were taking independent action over a wide range of issues. In Radom they occupied a public building to force the authorities to provide union premises. In Szczecin they responded to an attack on Solidarity in a local paper by commandeering the city’s trams so that student volunteers with loud hailers could distribute 400,000 leaflets. In Silesia they searched food warehouses and found, as they suspected, that workers were being cheated in the rationing system. Across the country railway workers struck over pay settlements. In Gdańsk health workers occupied the provincial governor’s building demanding more resources for the health service. They were supported by a medical student occupation and tram strikes in Gdańsk, Warsaw, Poznań and Lublin, and after 10 days the regime signed an agreement promising 5% of GDP would be spent on health. In Kraków environmentalists finally managed to close down the Skawina aluminium smelting plant, which had been poisoning the area for years. In Częstochowa workers forced the removal of the provincial governor. In Warsaw students occupied the university and won the right to an independent students union, leading to further student action over the following months.

Wojtek, who had been a student at either the University of Warsaw or the Warsaw University of Technology, was part of a delegation which visited the office of the university’s Principal. He told us ‘We went in and we said to him “You can go now”, and he left’. The confidence and calmness with which he said this was reminiscent of George Orwell’s description of Spain when ‘the working class was in the saddle’.

Wojtek Machowski. Photo: William Alderson

During the autumn peasants began demanding a Rural Solidarity, and a prisoners’ rights movement started in all prisons, supported by Solidarity. Even Journalists re-organised their own union. The various clubs and associations, licensed by the state and under Party control, broke away, declaring themselves independent. Alicja told us how even queues outside shops became organised by social queue committees, making sure that all were treated fairly. Solidarity was clearly not simply a union but an expression of people taking control over more and more aspects of their lives, but this was not reflected in the leadership.


At the public ceremony in Gdańsk on 16 December when the monument (paid for by Polish workers) was unveiled commemorating those killed in 1970, dignitaries of the church were invited to attend, but also representatives of the regime which had murdered them. In December Solidarity’s National Commission also called for an end to actions in support of peasant demands, but in January workers and peasants occupied the premises of the old unions in Rzeszów and demanded a fair share of their property and recognition of Rural Solidarity.

The Russian press started publishing false reports about counter-revolution in Poland. The Western press discussed a likely Russian invasion. The Pope wrote to USSR leader Leonid Brezhnev offering to mediate, while Polish bishops urged Solidarity to work with the regime on renewal. The regime, however, remained true to form, with the Katowice Party leader briefing police and security chiefs on how to break the union’s organisation. A tape recording was published by Solidarity.

From the start of 1981 there were continual strikes and occupations, especially when the regime attempted to go back on its agreements about ‘free Saturdays’. Solidarity told members they need not work on 10 and 24 January, but following the 10 January workers found that their pay was docked, which led to strikes in protest in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Bydgoszcz and 12 provinces. On 24 January Solidarity claimed that 90% of workers took the day off, and there were strikes in nine provinces on 24-25 January, with more strikes in the following week in various industrial centres. The pressure was so great that the leadership was forced to call a national one hour strike on 3 February over work-free Saturdays, access to the media, censorship, and recognition of Rural Solidarity.

At the same time they called for an immediate end to local and regional strikes, but the workers ignored this. On 30 January the regime agreed a compromise on Saturday working along the lines proposed by Solidarity, and agreed to send a negotiating team to Rzeszów to talk to the occupying peasants, but Solidarity leaders had great difficulty calling off the strike, as regional delegates demanded that it go ahead in support of Rural Solidarity.

Delegates also objected to the role of the advisors in the leadership of Solidarity. From the talks over the ‘21 points’ onwards, public negotiations had been accompanied by private discussions of details by advisors on both sides who came from the same circle of intellectuals and had more in common with each other than with the workers. Like the Solidarity leadership, they did not believe that a revolution was possible, but they did not believe that an independent trade union was possible either. Along with the church, with which some of them were closely connected, they formed a continuing pressure to work with the regime rather than to replace it. Unsurprisingly, a poll in January indicated that the leadership of Solidarity was out of touch with the members.

Resistance to compromise

Grafitti. Photo: Voice of Solidarity

In disregard of the Solidarity leadership, but with extensive local support even in factory Party organisations, there were wildcat strikes in various places and two local general strikes. In Bielsko-Biała the strike involved 120 enterprises for 10 days, and the talks, which were plugged into the national telephone network, ended with the sacking of the provincial governor on grounds of corruption, illicit financial dealings and mismanagement. Agreement was only reached when a bishop promised the workers that they could trust the government. This sacking was against the express wishes of the Prime Minister, and Wałęsa, who supported the workers, expressed doubts about ‘punishing every culprit among the rulers’. In Jelenia Góra strikers demanded the resignation of the Minister for Trade Union Affairs (formerly the local Party First Secretary) and the transfer to public use of a sanatorium reserved for the police. The hospital was handed over to the public health service.

Rural Solidarity badge. Photo: William Alderson

In the face of the occupation at Rzeszów and peasant actions at Nowy Sacz and Ustrzyki Dolne, the Supreme Court ruled on 10 February that the peasants could have an independent association but not a union, denying them the legal right to strike or bargain collectively. Neither the peasants nor the millions of workers who supported them agreed with this, but Wałęsa urged acceptance. The next day General Jaruzelski became Prime Minister (he was already Defence Minister), and Solidarity created a new central body, the Presidium, to act for the National Commission between meetings and to conduct negotiations with the new government. As Jaruzelski called for a 3-month moratorium on strikes, the Solidarity leadership echoed him with an appeal for an end to local and regional actions, calling them a threat to the union’s unity and existence.

Three weeks later Kuroń was briefly detained and another KOR member, Adam Michnik, threatened with detention, but Wałbrzych miners formed a workers guard for Michnik, and threatened to strike if the KOR members were arrested again. In Warsaw a tear-gas canister was thrown into a shop where assistants wore Solidarity armbands. On 10 March a million workers struck for one hour in Łódż in defence of five Solidarity hospital workers who were sacked for exposing the hospital director’s theft of ham intended for patients. The director was removed. On 12 March workers in Radom demanded that a police station under construction be converted to a hospital ‘for the people, not the police’, and more officials were dismissed.

When Rural Solidarity held its first Congress on 7 March in Poznań, delegates approaching the hall were threatened by plain clothes security police. Rural Solidarity still had no legal status, so on 17 March peasants extended the Rzeszów occupation to the regime’s United Peasants’ Party offices in Bydgoszcz. Solidarity members in this large industrial centre decided to back the peasants and raise the issue at a regional council meeting on 19 March. When the chairman adjourned the meeting before reaching that item on the agenda, the local Solidarity leaders refused to leave the meeting room. Seven hours later they were dragged out by security police and brutally beaten, with several needing hospital treatment. A Politburo statement said that it was right to use whatever means necessary to prevent occupation of a public building.

The turning point

Within hours Poland was plastered with posters of the battered faces of the injured men, and Solidarity members everywhere demanded an immediate and sharp response. There were two-hour ‘warning strikes’ in the Bydgoszcz region. An emergency meeting of Solidarity’s National Commission decided – after a heated discussion and a walkout by Wałęsa at one point – to call a four-hour ‘warning strike’ on 27 March and a full general strike on 31 March if the government did not meet their demands for: the discovery and punishment of those responsible for the beatings; recognition of Rural Solidarity; the release of political prisoners; and access to the official media.

The four-hour strike was immensely successful with television showing nothing but the words “The strike is on” or the Solidarność logo. The Party leadership had called on its members to work normally, but 1 million of its 1.4 million working-class base joined the strike. Over the next two days, workers, especially the young, were actively preparing for the strike by organising occupations, arranging food supplies, taking bedding into workplaces, and gathering barricade materials, etc. A strike HQ was established at the Lenin shipyard in Gdańsk, with regional centres in large factories. Against this, Deputy Prime Minister Rakowski declared that a general strike would be equivalent to revolution and would provoke a Russian invasion, effectively declaring the impotence of the government. Wałęsa, who did not want the strike, also warned that ‘a third party’ might become involved, and Cardinal Wyszyński and his advisors warned him of the risk of civil war.

At this critical moment Wałęsa and three others held talks with the regime and were given a government promise that those responsible for the Bydgoszcz beatings would be punished after due process of law, that Rural Solidarity would get legal recognition as a union, and that Solidarity could publish a weekly newspaper. Ignoring the union’s democractic processes, Wałęsa persuaded Solidarity vice-president Andrzej Gwiazda to join him on TV and unilaterally call off the strike.

In Britain in 1919 the leaders of a triple alliance of unions were invited to meet the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. He admitted to them that the government was powerless before them, and added that ‘if a force arises in the State that is stronger than the State itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the State, or withdraw and accept the authority of the State.’ One of the union leaders told Aneurin Bevan ‘From that moment on we were beaten, and knew we were beaten’.[4] In the case of Solidarity too, Wałęsa refused Solidarity the chance to take on the functions of the State, and the movement was beaten. With the balance of power now in the hands of the regime, General Jaruzelski began developing his plans for a coup. The official press agency thanked the Pope, Cardinal Wyszyński and the whole Church Episcopate for their help in defusing the conflict, and new concessions to the church were announced. No investigation into the Bydgoszcz beatings ever took place.

Solidarity’s decline

Activists reported that there was confusion and dismay among the rank and file after the strike was called off. Despite the publication of a Solidarity weekly paper from the first week in April, the number of local strikes dropped off dramatically, and attendance at meetings declined. In particular, many of the meetings organising the preparations and elections for Solidarity’s first congress in the autumn were inquorate. What developments there were were less focussed.

Although workers at the Polish airline LOT struck over the appointment of a military officer as the boss, they failed to get him removed, and action generally began to be replaced by talk. The Network (Sieć) was initiated by militants from a number of large enterprises with the aim of formulating a strategy for economic reform in which workers would have a real say. It grew over subsequent months and influenced Solidarity policy, but it had no impact whatsoever on the regime. Later, the Lublin group was formed, proposing schemes for worker self-management and the use of the ‘active strike’ (where strikers continued working, but took over control of production, supply and distribution), but workers had already taken such steps spontaneously in the course of the strikes. As a policy driven by theoretical ideas, the take up was minimal.

Huge popular celebrations of the 1791 constitution on 3 May embarrassed the regime by putting the official May Day celebrations into the shade, but nothing more. Organised protest began to be replaced by mob action as when a large crowd attacked a police station in Warsaw over the treatment of youthful drunks. Peasants were pulling out of the system and turning to barter.

“They don’t have bread? Let them drink vodka!” Photo: Voice of Solidarity

When organised action reappeared in July, it did not primarily take the from of strikes, but of other tactics. Factories voted to sack their directors or, in one case, put applicants for the post through a battery of tests devised by themselves and a local college, though the regime refused to accept this. Protests followed the ninth Party Congress which announced large price rises for food. Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Kutno carrying empty pots and pans with banners declaring ‘We are hungry’. In Szczecin a rally was held in the shipyards under the slogan ‘Put an end to starving the nation’. In Łódż the local Solidarity branch organised four days of huge street protests against the food shortages, because workers, many of whom were on a three-shift system, often had to queue up to 24 hours for basic foodstuffs. A demonstration of more than 40,000 carried placards stating: ‘The only result of the Party Congress – Hunger’; ‘The hungry will eat their rulers’; ‘A spectre is haunting Poland, the spectre of hunger’; and ‘Citizens, we are marching towards communism; you are requested not to eat on the way’. These protests climaxed in Warsaw when a huge motorcade of buses, taxis, cars, ambulances and lorries blocked the centre for 50 hours and in this case they ended on 5 August with a two-hour strike by 500,000 workers.

In response, on 4 August the government opened talks with Solidarity leaders over the economic crisis. When Deputy Prime Minister Rakowski attacked the union leaders, demanding that Solidarity give up ‘political activity beyond its statute’ and act to support price reform, Solidarity negotiators replied that they would support an austerity package in exchange for institutional reform and democratisation. However, Rakowski rejected any idea of power sharing and walked out of the talks, blaming the union for a breakdown of negotiations. On 7 August a wave of wildcat strikes, lasting until the autumn, began in Silesia with a strike by a million mine-workers over food shortages.

When Solidarity held its first congress in September, its decline was clear. Of the 892 delegates 70% were not manual workers, 28% were from an intellectual background, and 22.4% were full-time employees of Solidarity. Of the 100 people elected to the National Commission, 99 were men and only one a woman. No matter how good the resolutions passed or the 37 theses in Solidarity’s programme, the union’s organisation did not reflect its working-class base. Even worse, during the break between the two parts of the congress, Wałęsa and three other members of the Presidium met with the government and unilaterally agreed an outline law on self-management which allowed the regime to deny workers in defence and other ‘key’ industries (up to half of workplaces) the right to select top managers. Only Jan Rulewski of Bydgoszcz, voted against the agreement. Lech Wałęsa told the re-convened congress that in concrete political situations, one must sometimes behave like a dictator. He was supported by Jacek Kuroń.

The regime’s growth

From the time Jaruzelski became Prime Minister as well as Defence Minister he had been organising military operations outside of the civilian apparatus, allegedly testing the use of Warsaw Pact radio links during April. During June and July he conducted exercises to assess the loyalty of the Polish army officers; announced a decision to take ‘extraordinary means to fight speculation … by reinforcing local authorities with troops’; and told the Congress that the armed forces were not shaken by the crisis. In August he tested workers’ willingness to fight by announcing that the government was abandoning the target of reducing the wait for an apartment to five years. There were no strikes in protest. Similarly, when ordinary police sought Solidarity membership in late August, their leaders were sacked, but the union offered no support, although some 40,000 of 150,000 civil police were reckoned to be Solidarity members.

In August Jaruzelski’s preparations were matched with a propaganda offensive. Rakowski’s blaming the union for the failure of the talks on the economy was followed by an accusation by Zofia Grzyb (a member of both the Politburo and Solidarity) that the union leaders were betraying the workers. Solidarity’s National Commission recognised that any hopes of agreed reform were finished, and advisors maintained that the regime would lay blame for the economic chaos on Solidarity or extremists within it. In an attempt to appease the regime, the Solidarity National Commission called on workers (the miners in particular) to work eight of their remaining free Saturdays of 1981, sugaring this with the claim that the output would be under the control of the MKZ and used for the needy. In contrast, Jaruzelski addressed young officers, accusing Solidarity of preventing the regime from dealing with the problems of food and housing, and saying ‘Polish soldiers have the right to say: enough of this indulgence’.

With growing evidence that the regime was less vulnerable to challenge by Solidarity or by workers acting independently, and that its grip on the armed forces was firm, it appears that early autumn saw the decision made to launch a coup d’êtat. Certainly, at the end of September Albin Swiak, a Politburo hard-liner, told a meeting of the old branch unions that a six-man Committee of National Salvation had been formed, headed by Generals Jaruzelski and Kiszczak, Minister of the Interior; that special units of the army and security forces had been assigned the job of repressing popular resistance; and that the leadership would wait two months before putting its plans into operation.


In the autumn workers’ confidence started to revive. In September 12,000 mill workers, mainly women, occupied their plant in Żyrardów for three weeks over shortages, and 180,000 workers in Jelenia Góra joined a one-hour general strike. In Silesia coal miners struck when a local Solidarity leader was arrested for allowing members to cart off an old branch union leader in a wheelbarrow after he talked to television reporters behind Solidarity’s back. In October 300,000 workers were involved in wildcat strikes. In Piotrków Trybunalski there was a strike and in Suwałki a sit-in over food shortages. In Krosno another union official was wheelbarrowed off for altering a Solidarity poster. Teachers nationally threatened to strike over their draft charter. In fact, by 24 October half the country’s provinces were said to be affected by strikes.

In an attempt to control this, and in the face of the government’s refusal to consider Solidarity’s proposals for solving the economic crisis, Solidarity’s National Commission called for a national one-hour warning strike on 28 October over media defamation of the union, and repression of Solidarity activists.

At the same time, the Party Central Committee installed General Jaruzelski as First Secretary. Contrary to their own rules, Jaruzelski now held the positions of First Secretary, Prime Minister and Defence Minister, and other generals were in charge of several ministries. On 19 October the government announced a price-freeze, which had little meaning as bread prices had already tripled, cigarettes doubled, and supplies were collapsing. It also announced that national army service was extended for 2 months, but when soldiers appeal to Solidarity for immediate demobilisation, no practical support was organised. In fact, throughout the strikes and protests there had been no systematic attempt by workers to contact their conscripted friends and relations and to win them to Solidarity’s aims. As a result, there was no challenge in the armed forces to the regime’s propaganda about what was happening.

On 23 October a large number of small army units were dispersed to more than 2,000 rural communities and small towns, officially to assist with the problems of supplies. The next day army and militia patrols started in major cities, and there were provocative police actions against Solidarity events in the streets. When Solidarity propaganda vans seized in Katowice and Wrocław, large protesting crowds were violently dispersed by the militia. On 27 October tear gas canisters were thrown into a crowded union rally at the Sosnowiec mine in Katowice.

The national one-hour strike on 28 October went ahead as planned, supported by millions of workers, but unevenly. In one Gdańsk workplace a regional leader had to intervene to win support. The same day the Sejm was presented with a draft law granting the government the power to impose martial law, including a ban on strikes and public meetings; army control of workplaces; wide powers for military courts; and severe restrictions on travel within Poland. On 29 October the Solidarity leadership yet again called for an end to local and regional strikes, while Jaruzelski opened the Sejm on 30 October with a speech about the need for an emergency powers law. With some Sejm members against it, discussion was adjourned.

On 4 November Wałęsa announced that he was going to Warsaw for talks with General Jaruzelski and Archbishop Glemp, without having discussed this with the National Commission. The talks were a sham, as the government proposed that Solidarity support huge price rises in exchange for a National Reconciliation Front involving the Party, Solidarity and five other ‘puppet’ organisations. The proposal was rejected outright. By the end of the month the Party Central Committee finally agreed to go ahead with the emergency powers legislation.

“Poland”. Photo: Voice of Solidarity

Meanwhile there were 65 disputes at the start of the month with 160,000 striking in Jelenia Góra over the sacking of a Solidarity activist, and 200,000 more threatening to join in, while the Solidarity leadership urged that there be no enlargement of the strike. When it ended on 12 November there were still 250,000 workers on strike across Poland, though this reduced rapidly towards the end of the month, with only 2,000 Solidarity members on strike at the start of December. On the other hand, there had been protests at the appointment of an army colonel as principal of Radom University, which grew to involve 500,000 students and lecturers, and by early December they had stopped 70 of the 104 institutions of higher education.

On 2 December, the occupation by fire-fighting students in Warsaw was broken up by a squad of police with helicopters and military hardware, marking a more offensive strategy by the regime. In response, Solidarity called for action on 17 December, including ‘active strikes’ and a general strike as ‘a day of national protest against the use of violence in social conflicts’, but it was too little too late. On the night of 12 December nearly all the delegates to the National Commission meeting in Gdańsk were arrested, together with leading Solidarity activists across the country. Cardinal Glemp was woken at 5 a.m. and given notice of the 6 a.m. announcement of the imposition of martial law on 13 December.  The military claimed that Solidarity was planning to seize power on 17 December, but only a single firearm was found during the arrests. Instead it was a military regime under General Jaruzelski which seized power.



[1] Reprinted as Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski, Solidarność: The Missing Link; The Classic Open Letter to the Party (London: Bookmarks, 1982),  p. 62. The emphasis is theirs.

[2] Figures from Tomasz Kozłowski, The Birth of Solidarity: Dynamics of a Social Movement (Warsaw: Institute of National Remembrance, 2011), p. 5. At the time the figure of 6 million was commonly accepted, with a peak membership of some 10 million.

[3] Tomasz Kozłowski, The Birth of Solidarity: Dynamics of a Social Movement (Warsaw: Institute of National Remembrance, 2011), p. 5. See note 2.

[4] Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear (London: Simon and Schuster, 1952), pp. 21-22.


We are particularly indebted to:

– Colin Barker, Festival of the Oppressed; Solidarity, Reform And Revolution in Poland 1980-81, (London: Bookmarks, 1986)
Voice of Solidarity, years 1983 to 1988
The Bloc, years 1989 to 1990
– Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski, Solidarność: The Missing Link; The Classic Open Letter to the Party (London: Bookmarks, 1982)

Our thanks also to:

– Denis MacShane, Solidarity; Polands Independent Trade Union, (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1981)
– Colin Barker and Karen Weber, Solidarność; From Gdańsk to Military Repression, (London: International Socialism, 1982)
– Magda Zalewska, Henryk Gawinski and  John Taylor, Solidarity Underground; Free Trade Unionism in Poland Today, (London: Polish Solidarity Campaign, 1983)
– Chis Harman, ‘The lessons of the Polish defeat’, Socialist Review (23 January – 19 February 1982)
– Chis Harman, ‘Between two storms’, Socialist Review (15 October – 14 December 1980)
– [no author], What happened in Gdansk’, Socialist Review (15 October – 14 December 1980)
– [no author], ‘Underneath Solidarity’, Socialist Review (15 October – 14 December 1980)
– Chis Harman, ‘The storm that won’t abate’, Socialist Review (18 April – 16 May 1981)
– Chis Harman, ‘Poland: no room to compromise’, Socialist Review (15 November – 13 December 1981)
– John Rees, The socialist revolution and the democratic revolution, International Socialism (Summer 1999)

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