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Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968

David Ost

Publication Year: 2010

"For both academic analysts and political activists, this book offers useful lessons from the Polish experience with anti-politics and neocorporatism." —Political Science Quarterly Based on extensive use of primary sources, this book provides an analysis of Solidarity, from its ideological origins in the Polish "new left," through the dramatic revolutionary months of 1980-81, and up to the union’s remarkable resurgence in 1988-89, when it sat down with the government to negotiate Poland’s future. David Ost focuses on what Solidarity is trying to accomplish and why it is likely that the movement will succeed. He traces the conflict between the ruling Communist Party and the opposition, Solidarity’s response to it, and the resulting reforms. Noting that Poland is the one country in the world where "radicals of ‘68" came to be in a position to negotiate with a government about the nature of the political system, Ost asks what Poland tells us about the possibility for realizing a "new left" theory of democracy in the modern world. As a Fulbright Fellow at Warsaw University and Polish correspondent for the weekly newspaper In These Times during the Solidarity uprising and a frequent visitor to Poland since then, David Ost has had access to a great deal of unpublished material on the labor movement. Without dwelling on the familiar history of August 1980, he offers some of the unfamiliar subtleties—such as the significance of the Szczecin as opposed to the Gdansk Accord—and shows how they shaped the budding union’s understanding of the conflicts ahead. Unique in its attention to the critical, formative period following August 1980, this study is the most current and comprehensive analysis of a movement that continues to transform the nature of East European society. "In his superb book, ...political scientist David Ost chronicles the trajectory of the Polish post-war opposition from its roots in the fascist resistance up to the actions of Solidarity in 19.... [He] astutely bridges academic disciplines, interweaving social theory with intellectual and political history to explain Solidarity's raison d'etre.... In an age when definitions of left and right have become obscured, Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics stands out at a creative example of left thought." —In These Times "Ost contributes not only an explication of Polish political life, but he also presents a vision of democracy applicable to the Western world as a whole." —Jewish Currents "An invaluable contribution." —Choice

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

It was one of the most interesting places in the world in the late 1970s—that's how Poland seemed to me, anyway. The traditional state socialist system of the Soviet bloc was in desperate need of political reform, but only in Poland was there any real evidence of reform. Elsewhere change seemed precluded by the prevailing Brezhnev model of...


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pp. xiv

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ONE: The Style of Solidarity

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pp. 1-17

Solidarity came into existence claiming to be a non-political movement. "We don't want to engage in politics," the strikers in Gdansk told the government negotiating committee in August 1980. "We'll have nothing to do with politics. Politics is your business, not ours." The KOR opposition that preceded Solidarity, and from...

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TWO: Civil Society and the "Third Road"

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pp. 19-32

What is "civil society?" For some years now, this rather odd-sounding category has been creeping into discussions of contemporary politics.1 In Western Europe, it has been a key concept of the new social movements of the last twenty years. In Poland, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, it became the central category of democratic oppositionist thought in the 1970s. The term grew so pervasive under Solidarity that...

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THREE: The Genesis of Political Opposition in Poland: 1944-1970

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pp. 33-53

Anti-politics, with its effort to democratize civil society rather than the state, emerged in Poland only in the 1970s. Before then, the political opposition set its goals on the transformation of the state. Without providing a detailed history, this chapter outlines developments in these years and tries to show that the Polish opposition...

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FOUR: Opposition and Civil Society: 1970-1980

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pp. 55-74

Edward Gierek threw Gomulka's renowned caution to the winds in an attempt to revitalize Poland's economy on the cheap, hoping to attract support for the PZPR not as the party of Marxian socialism, but as the party of economic prosperity. His initial strategy called for domestic reforms to be combined with the import of new Western technology...

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FIVE: Politics, Anti-Politics, and the Beginnings of Solidarity

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pp. 75-111

In August 1980, provoked by rising prices, a deteriorating economy, and a long-simmering anger, shipworkers in Gdansk and Szczecin walked out on strike. Within days the strikes became general, guided in each city by an Interfactory Strike Committee that demanded that the government recognize the workers' right to form independent trade...

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SIX: Solidarity, Democracy, and Neocorporatism

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pp. 113-148

By the end of 1980, Solidarity had begun to look for a political solution to the crisis. Any solution had to preserve the right of Solidarity to exist as a legal, autonomous trade union, while guaranteeing the Party the ability (and legitimacy) to continue to exercise the "leading role" in the state. The first was necessary because a mobilized society demanded...

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SEVEN: The Poverty of Martial Law: Limping Toward Reform

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pp. 149-186

Trying to make sense out of Polish developments in the years since martial law is a rather daunting challenge. It is also more than a bit foolhardy, since things are changing so fast that today's wisdom may read like tomorrow's curiosities. And yet it is a challenge worth taking. For insofar as martial law did not resolve the crisis...

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EIGHT: The Viability of an Accord

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pp. 187-204

Solidarity was created as a trade union and social movement rooted in an "anti-political" ideology of societal democratization. This was reflected in its initial focus on expanding civic rights and its rigorous eschewal of intervention in state politics. Solidarity became concerned with the state only in late 1980, when the state could no longer be...

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EPILOG: The New Solidarity

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pp. 205-215

On January 18, 1989, the day this manuscript was sent to the publisher, General Jaruzelski told a plenary session of the PZPR Central Committee that the Party leadership was now willing to accept the relegalization of Solidarity. Less than three weeks later, on February 6, leaders of the Party and Solidarity sat down for the long-awaited Round...

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pp. 217-222

On August 24, 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Prime Minister of the Polish People's Republic, ending the communists' forty-four-year monopoly on power. Sooner than anyone had expected, and sooner than Solidarity had wanted, Solidarity itself took over the...


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pp. 223-258


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pp. 259-269


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pp. 271-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903513

Publication Year: 2010