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Workers Vanguard No. 921

26 September 2008

Why Trotskyists Said “Stop Solidarność Counterrevolution!”


Editor, Workers Vanguard:

“A trade union led by reactionary fakers organizes a strike against the admission of Negro workers into a certain branch of industry. Shall we support such a shameful strike?” (Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, page 30.)

“No self-resp[ec]ting trade unionist, no supporter of the workers movement, and certainly no communist crosses picket lines, ever.” (Workers Vanguard, 15 March 1996, page 3)

As a means of putting forth political ideas, leftists frequently find it necessary to sloganize; to reduce their concept to a few brief words, suitable for chanting or putting on a picket sign. This always involves a trade-off; what you gain in brevity and simplicity often involves a loss of precision and accuracy.

This is especially the case with one of the Spartacist League’s favorite slogans, “Picket Lines Mean Don’t Cross.” This formalistic formulation is a boiled-down expression of working-class unity, of solidarity, and it [is] appropriate 95 times out of 100. But in the other five cases, the formal answer can be a wrong answer.

Within the range of worker/employer conflict it is usually appropriate. But every picket line has a political aspect. Some may involve jurisdictional issues, in which case it is necessary to examine the situation carefully to determine which side best serves the interest of the working class as a whole.

Some picket lines are not union lines at all, but are openly political. Reactionaries and racists sometimes set up picket lines, and a formal position that no picket line should ever be crossed can put leftists in the position of supporting right-wing positions.

But nevertheless, the original concept is basically correct. What it implies is class solidarity. It means we make a presumption of solidarity with the picketers. We do not ask them, “Are your demands just and appropriate?” Instead we say, “If you are ready and willing to fight the bosses, we will help in whatever way we can, first of all by supporting your picket line.”

All of this, of course, is merely the carrying out in practice of the old marxist principle that the working class is the only truly revolutionary class in modern times. Revolutionaries try to work within working class organizations, such as unions, to win the worker-members to a revolutionary point of view. Most of the time, most members and almost all union leaders are not very revolutionary.

In such cases, leftists have often abandoned the main-stream unions and tried to set up alternative, revolutionary unions. This “dual-union” policy has often been tried in the past. It invariably leads to the isolation of the revolutionary forces and a weakening of the union movement as a whole. For good reasons, this policy is explicitly rejected in the Transitional Program.

This means that the attitude of revolutionaries towards trade unions is completely different from their attitude towards political parties. The revolutionary content of a union lies in the fact that it is a mass organization of workers. Whatever its current policies, it is an organization of the revolutionary class, and revolutionaries must be a part of it, must support it, must become the best builders of it, in spite of the current conservative or reactionary nature of its policies and leadership.

The revolutionary content of a political party, on the other hand, lies in its program. To support a political organization which does not have a revolutionary program only serves to confuse and disorient the workers among its membership. It may be better to split off and establish a smaller organization that can put forth a clearer, more revolutionary program.

The key aim for revolutionaries in a political organization is clarity. The key aim in a class organization, such as a union, is unity. In a class organization, revolutionaries try to work from the inside, trying to win the workers by argument and example to a revolutionary point of view.

It is in this area that the Spartacist League made the biggest political error of its history. In l98l it called for the smashing of the Polish union, Solidarity. The Spartacist League was opposed to Solidarity from the very beginning. By doing so, it won for itself a place as a footnote in future histories of the Trotskyist movement as the first advocate of union-smashing Trotskyism.

There were actually two Polish Solidaritys. The original Solidarity was a union, organized and led by workers. Its main bases were the factories, mines, railroads, shipyards and other workplaces. Intellectuals, students and farmers played a supporting but subordinate role. It included, at its peak, over 90% of the Polish working class.

It faced an almost impossible political situation: how to improve the condition of Polish working people without provoking a Soviet invasion, as had happened in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. This would have been hard enough to work out in an open society with full freedom of speech, press and assembly. Under a Stalinist regime, the brief, 18-month life-span of Solidarity was not enough to develop a workable solution.

Certainly the role of Trotskyists in such a situation was to work within Solidarity, argue for their ideas, present their program for a development leading towards the eventual political revolution against the Stalinist regime and the conversion of the “deformed” workers’ state into a real one. This after all, was the Trotskyist objective for all of the East European countries at that time.

After the Stalinist government cracked down in the summer of 1981, Lech Walesa and his friends in the church took over the Solidarnosc name and formed a reformist political party.

Marion Syrek
Founding member, the Spartacist League

WV replies:

Marion Syrek, who departed our organization in 1968, seeks to falsely conflate, in true “third camp” fashion, the necessary suppression of counterrevolutionary Solidarność in military defense of the Polish deformed workers state with trade-union questions within capitalist countries. Regarding the latter: in the event of picket lines of a racist or otherwise reactionary character, we seek to convince workers who are under the sway of reactionary ideology to act otherwise; failing that, we seek to mobilize the most class-conscious elements of the working class to take down reactionary picket lines. As to the dangers of “dual unionism”: as someone clearly conversant with our published material, Syrek should know that we are not advocates of “dual unionism” (i.e., the formation of “red unions” as against the existing bureaucratically led trade unions). Rather we seek to build, through political struggle, a revolutionary opposition to the corrupt, anti-Communist, pro-capitalist union bureaucracy within the current mass organizations of the working class. At the same time, we do not make a fetish of the existing union structures. For revolutionaries, this question is tactical, dependent upon the level of proletarian struggle and consciousness.

The real crux of Syrek’s letter is an apology for those who stood with counterrevolutionary Solidarność against its suppression in Poland in 1981. Syrek claims that our support to the suppression of Solidarność is “the biggest political error” of our history.

Our Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of those states where capitalism has been overthrown has been a major dividing line between ourselves and the fake left for decades. Our fight against counterrevolutionary Solidarność as well as the evolution of our position and our work has been documented extensively (see: Solidarność: Polish Company Union for CIA and Bankers, Spartacist pamphlet, 1981). We wrote in the introduction to that pamphlet:

“The Polish Stalinist bureaucracy, having already mortgaged Poland to the German bankers in the futile hope of buying off its own working class, now seems paralyzed by Solidarność’ bid to sell the country to the imperialists outright. There has emerged in Poland no socialist opposition worthy of the name. And internationally the fake-lefts see in this mortal danger to socialized property in Poland a chance to earn their stars and stripes as a left cover for the social democrats and the pro-capitalist ‘labor statesmen’ who long ago enlisted as junior partners in imperialism’s war drive against the Soviet Union.”

Syrek refers to “two Polish Solidaritys,” the first including “at its peak, over 90% of the Polish working class.” Beginning in 1980 we recognized in the Polish upheavals both an opening for revolutionary agitation and an awesome potential for reactionary mobilization based on the powerful Catholic church, the large peasant “free market” and the “dissident” movement which looked to the capitalist West to “democratize” East Europe. We pointed out after the August 1980 Gdansk Agreement was signed that the union movement would either become a vehicle for clerical-nationalist reaction or would have to oppose it in the name of socialist principle. There was no “third way.”

By September 1981, we recognized that “Solidarity is no longer a trade union, but has come to include large sections of the intelligentsia, petty bureaucrats, priests, etc.... Much of Solidarity’s efforts were directed toward forcing the government to legally recognize the organization of peasant smallholders, Rural Solidarity, a potent social force for capitalist restoration” (see “Stop Solidarity’s Counterrevolution!” WV No. 289, 25 September 1981). We oriented toward creating a left opposition from among both Solidarność and Communist Party militants who sought a genuine “socialist renewal.” As we pointed out: “A revolutionary vanguard in Poland would seek to split Solidarity, winning the mass of the workers away from the anti-Soviet nationalist leadership around Walesa.”

But Solidarność consolidated around a clear counterrevolutionary program, including the call for “free trade unions,” a war cry of Cold War AFL-CIO anti-Communists and their CIA cohorts who poured cash into Walesa’s operation. Solidarność also called for “free elections,” by which it meant capitalist restoration under the guise of parliamentary “democracy.” We raised demands for the strict separation of church and state, for the collectivization of Polish agriculture, for the cancellation of Poland’s crippling debt to the imperialist bankers, for the military defense of the USSR against imperialism, for political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy and for a democratically elected workers government based on soviets to carry out socialist economic planning.

Syrek, glibly opining about Trotskyist “work” within Solidarność, omits the fact that not only was the “AFL-CIA” officialdom backing the consolidation of Solidarność around a counterrevolutionary program, but also that this Polish “free trade union” was supported by the forces of imperialist reaction from Wall Street to the Vatican. Ronald Reagan declared the Polish crisis represented “the beginning of the end of Communism.” The notoriously anti-Communist social democrat Albert Shanker and the Wall Street Journal were as one in attacking any leftists (i.e., us) who exposed Solidarność as a company union for the CIA and bankers. Meanwhile, such was the renegacy of the fake-Trotskyist “left” that Nat Weinstein’s Socialist Action made the Solidarność logo the template for its newspaper’s masthead. Indeed, Marion Syrek was listed as a staff member of Socialist Action since its first issue in December 1983 until at least November 1985.

Reading Syrek’s letter, one would never know that the bulk of the fake left, in overt reformist or more slimy centrist fashion, sided with counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union and East European deformed workers states. This included the likes of British Workers Power which, while conceding the counterrevolutionary nature of Solidarność, nonetheless opposed its suppression because of its mass proletarian base. When that necessary crackdown came only hours before Solidarność’s own counterrevolutionary grab for power, we wrote in “Solidarność Counterrevolution Checked: Power Bid Spiked” (WV No. 295, 18 December 1981):

“The Polish Stalinists managed to pull off an effective coup d’état in their own country. Contrary to every instinct and appetite of the ruling bureaucracy, constantly seeking accommodation with imperialism, they were forced to take measures defending historic gains of the proletariat. For it must be recognized that Lech Walesa’s Solidarność was moving to overthrow not merely the corrupt and discredited Stalinist regime, but social gains inherited from the Bolshevik Revolution—centrally a collectivized planned economy—which were bureaucratically extended to Poland after the Red Army liberated the country from Nazi occupation. That is why this Polish ‘free trade union’ is supported by the forces of imperialist reaction.”

It was certainly not to our liking to see workers follow a counterrevolutionary course. It was the bankrupt policies of the Stalinist misrulers that drove these workers from the historically socialist-minded proletariat of Poland into the arms of capitalist reaction. Nonetheless, when the program for the emancipation of the working class is in flat contradiction with a section of the working class, our loyalties must reside with the program, which is decisive. Not so for Syrek. In fact, in 1993 Workers Vanguard published a letter by Syrek in which he posited that those states in East Europe where capitalism had been overthrown were “simply new forms of bourgeois states.” As we replied at the time:

“Similarly, the missing ingredient in Syrek’s ‘analysis’ of Eastern Europe is the intervention of the Red Army, whose military victory over Hitler’s Nazis and their East European puppet regimes caused the former rulers to flee, leaving behind a power vacuum that was filled by the Soviet Army. Under the pressure of imperialist Cold War I, the Stalinists established deformed workers states in these countries as a ‘buffer zone,’ through cold social revolutions that were imposed from the top down.”

—“On Counterrevolution in East Europe,” WV No. 578, 18 June 1993

This was no abstract debate then, nor is it now. Syrek writes of “an open society with full freedom of speech, press and assembly” as opposed to a “Stalinist regime”—echoing those who extol “democratic” imperialism. The renegade Kautsky would have been proud.

The subsequent course of events in Poland further demolishes Syrek’s apology for “poor little Solidarność.” As our comrades in the Spartacist Group of Poland wrote:

“After the destruction of the Polish deformed workers state in 1989-90, Solidarność had served its purpose as the spearhead for capitalist counterrevolution. Its peasant sector and many intellectuals decamped and founded their own bourgeois parties. Thus, Solidarność (and its offshoots like Solidarność 80 and Sierpien 80) became more akin to a trade union in social composition. During the first tenure of the SLD [Democratic Left Alliance]-led government in post-counterrevolution Poland we observed that the ‘official Solidarność union now poses as a champion of working-class interests while revving up its anti-Communist demagogy and making overtures to openly fascistic forces’.”

—“Spartacist Group of Poland Refounded,” WV No. 892, 11 May 2007

Such are the bitter fruits of capitalist counterrevolution throughout the former Soviet Union and East Europe, an outcome against which we fought to the end. As we explained in “All the Pope’s Dissidents” (WV No. 263, 5 September 1980): “Authentic Trotskyism stands not for the bogus ‘unity of all anti-Stalinist forces’—including disciples of Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II] and Brzezinski [Carter’s National Security Advisor]—but for a class-conscious communist opposition to the parasitic bureaucracy.”

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