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  • A Communist Comeback?The Dissolution of Solidarity
  • Aleksander Smolar (bio)

The Polish parliamentary elections of 19 September 1993 had two winners: the party known as the Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (or SdRP, which led an electoral coalition called the Alliance of the Democratic Left, or SLD), and the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL). Although each had just finished comprehensively refurbishing its facade, the old colors still peeked forth from beneath the fresh paint. In the former case, they were those of the old communist party, formally known as the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP); in the latter, they belonged to the United Peasants' Party, a longtime satellite of the PUWP.

The parties most directly descended from Solidarity suffered a bitter setback. The trade union itself lost all its seats in the national legislature. The Liberal Democratic Congress (KLD), which has played an important role in the making of economic policy over the last few years, met with the same fate. The post-Solidarity Right, broken up into a congeries of quarreling factions, was swept out of office: conservative and "national" parties (the ones most closely linked to the Catholic Church) all went down the tubes. The Democratic Union (UD)—the party of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Bronistaw Geremek, Jacek Kuroñ, Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka, and most of the former dissidents—was relegated to a distant third place behind the two front-runners. Only one party descended from Solidarity scored a clear success: the Union of Labor, led by Ryszard Bugaj, Karol Modzelewski, and Zbigniew Bujak. But this resolutely leftist group had deliberately broken with the heritage [End Page 70] of Solidarity, and, letting bygones be bygones, so to speak, had opened its ranks to former communists.

Not counting the German minority, which has a handful of guaranteed seats, the only other two parties to exceed the threshold (5 percent of the total nationwide vote for parties and 8 percent for coalitions) required to win seats in the Sejm, the lower house of Poland's bicameral parliament, were the rightist-populist Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPN), and the Non-Party Bloc in Support of Reforms (BBWR), endorsed by President Lech Watłęsa. (See Table 1 on the following page for fuller results of the 1993 elections.)

The euphoria of 1989 was short-lived. Everybody quickly realized that creating basic democratic structures, building a modern economy, and reweaving the social fabric of Eastern and Central Europe would not be easy. Alarming forecasts filled the air. From whence was danger expected to come? Two answers dominated Polish politics, one typically given by the Right, and the other by the Left.

In the eyes of the Right, the threat was embodied by the nomenklatura of the former PUWP. Despite the recent changes, it had retained its grip on the economy and the provincial power structures. The secret-police files it controlled would allow it to blackmail whomever it pleased, and its ties abroad—especially with Moscow—would be maintained. Russia might be in a bad way at the moment, to be sure, but one day it might well recover its capacity to threaten the independence of Poland. The labor-union weekly Tygodnik solidarność, a large group of Solidarity activists, plus politicians like Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczyński and Jan Olszewski were among those who stated this view most clearly.

To the Left, on the other hand, democracy in Poland seemed to be menaced above all by an explosive mixture of nationalism wedded to populism, authoritarianism, clericalism, and nostalgia for the precommunist past. This vision was put forth most powerfully in the pages of the influential daily paper Gazeta wyborcza, whose editor-in-chief Adam Michnik has long guided the way in which certain sectors of public opinion in both Poland and the West perceive the problems of the postcommunist world.

These competing evaluations of the problems and hazards facing Poland led to the policies that in turn brought about the current situation. The Right's insistence on seeing all problems as flowing unfailingly from a mythical plot hatched by the old nomenklatura has not helped rightists to understand the process by which a large part of the population has turned away from their brand...


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