Poland’s Solidarity: A Personalist Revolution

March 1990By Bohdan Pilacinski

Bohdan Pilacinski is a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1946. He and his family fled Poland six months after his birth. Fluent in Polish, he returned to Poland for a visit in 1978. He is planning to visit again this spring.

Unlike the revolutions in Nicaragua or El Salvador — popular fronts based on a negative consensus — Solidarity articulated a positive consensus from the start. This was less a pro­gram than a process, even a sensibility. Soli­darity’s agenda and strategy emanated from a pre-existing consensus of the common people on the meaning of social life. This consensus was ground down to its simplest form by the manner in which the Party-state consistently violated its meaning. The consensus, which became a communion of working people, was in its broadest expression truth in living. Be­cause this truth was violated in every way by the state, the nation attacked the state where it was most vulnerable: Solidarity attacked the degradation of work.

Work was degraded not only by working conditions and economic exploitation, but pri­marily by the usurpation of daily effort to service lies: the lies of a bankrupt ideology, phony in­formation, fraudulent history — a whole fabric of contrived and corrupted meanings that poisoned and deformed personal and social life. So before it was a trade union, Solidarity was a spiritual response and an ethical revolt.

The aspiration to truth in living was found in solidarity of conscience, which is more than intent; it is in itself a subjective, dynamic truth which one enters and lives con­tagiously. This contagion became a mass sen­sibility.

Now, truth in living can be understood in terms of human dignity, and Solidarity spoke emphatically of human dignity. But due to our own acculturation, this language could lead us to the wrong inferences — to something cen­tered on human rights, then on the individual and his enfranchisement. Truth in living is culture-specific and different everywhere, and in Poland in 1980 it meant to enter history as a subject.

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