Lech Wałęsa and Thatcher, the wise and brave woman

While The Leninist's critique of Stalinism was still developing, it had no hesitation in calling the export of Polish coal to Britain during the miner's strike a scab act.

The Leninist tendency in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1980s and early 90s had a number of distinctive political features that marked it out from other trends on the left of the party. While The Leninist used the term ‘bureaucratic socialism’ to refer to the regimes in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, it did so in the literal sense: ie, a form of socialism that was bureaucratic, rather than a society that was neither capitalist nor socialist. Nevertheless, the forerunner of the Weekly Worker was highly critical of those regimes, eventually calling for a “political revolution” to overthrow them.

During the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85 this contradiction was highlighted by the continued export of Polish coal to the UK, thus undermining the National Union of Mineworkers’ action. In this October 1984 polemic, William Hughes countered the arguments of Ernie Trory, a prominent member of the Stalinist New Communist Party, who had come out in defence of the Polish ‘communists’ in the previous issue’s letters page.

Why does Poland scab?

At a meeting held to celebrate International Miners Day in Lens, northern France, at the beginning of last month, leaders of the Polish miners’ union pledged that they would return to Poland and fight for an end to the export of coal to Britain during the miners’ strike. The Leninists of the Communist Party of Great Britain welcome this development, even though, quite frankly, it is long overdue. The export of Polish coal to Britain while the miners are slugging it out with the Tories was a crime against internationalism, and The Leninist has repeatedly made calls from these pages for Polish communists to end this dirty trade.

The statements of the Polish miners’ trade union that they plan to return to Poland and push for the ending of this trade is very welcome - if it is more than a throwaway gesture on the part of some Polish trade union functionary, if it represents a shift of the position of the Polish United Workers Party itself. Something in all frankness we must doubt, if reports in the Financial Times of September 24 are to be believed. Apparently the Polish authorities, far from stopping the export of coal to Britain, have pushed up their deliveries far in excess of the limits agreed with Arthur Scargill soon after the miners’ strike began in March.

Despite our profound criticisms of the Polish party’s position, we have never suggested, of course, that our Polish comrades’ actions were motivat­ed by anything other than a ge­nuine desire to defend and con­solidate socialism in Poland against black counterrevolution. What we have argued, however, is that the actions of the Polish communists revealed the tragic dilemma of centrists everywhere, in that they characteris­tically sought short-term, economic remedies to what are essentially political problems. Although these difficulties may manifest themselves in the sphere of the Polish economy, their roots actually lie in the critical ideological crisis that grips the vanguard of the Polish working class - the Polish United Workers Party.

Leading Polish economists estimat­ed in August 1983 that it would take until 1986 to restore production to the levels of 1978 or 1979, themselves years of widespread shortages. However, recent setbacks in the export markets for Polish goods must have ruined even this cautious forecast. In the first half of this year, sales of Polish plant and equipment abroad fell to around 20% of hard-currency earnings for that period, which was only 32% of the export target set by the govern­ment. This is very bad news indeed for Poland. Last year alone engineering goods made up one quarter of the $5.6 billion earned in hard currency.

Similarly, output in the key Polish industrial sector of shipbuilding is down from the 1970s. In one of the country’s three major shipbuilding works, for example, the Warski yard in Szczecin in north-west Poland, 30% of machinery is standing idle. This enforced idleness is partly the result of a skilled labour shortage and partly because of weak western demand for the type of ships that Poland specialises in. Although for the moment the order books are full, this is accounted for mostly by orders from the Soviet Union. The last time the Warski yard, for example, signed an order with a western customer was in 1982. Hard-currency sales of other Polish industrial specialities, such as sulphuric acid plants, cement plants and sugar mills, have also been severely curtailed, as ‘third world’ countries, previously their main market, have slashed their imports under the impact of the world recession.

Poland has therefore had to shift its export emphasis away from these ‘solid’ sources of hard currency towards less stable and rich ones, such as energy and raw materials. The Financial Times of August 13 1984 noted:

Poland is being forced to rely more than ever for its export earnings on sales abroad of coal, sulphur, copper, silver and lead, although prices are weak and the hard currency returns do not match the increased sales. Plum­meting orders from developing countries have caused the bottom nearly to fall out of Poland’s hard-currency sales of engineering products.

Thus, while in 1983 total exports of Polish coal to western capitalist states was just 17.6 million tonnes, the first six months alone of this year saw some 13.8 million tonnes of Polish coal going west. The British miners’ strike must therefore have seemed to our Polish comrades too good a chance to miss and, as we have reported,1 the Polish authorities shamefully responded by not only doubling the export of coal to Britain since the beginning of the year, but also by sending trade representatives to Britain in order to consolidate a more long-term ‘foot in the door’ of the ravaged British coal industry.

In our previous issue Ernie Trory of the New Communist Party attempted to defend these actions of our Polish comrades.2 The substance of his defence seemed to be his inane observation that “governments deal with governments” and thusit was totally incorrect of us, he claimed, to call on our Polish comrades to fight for support for the British miners. Instead, according to Trory, we should have called on the Polish trade unions to organise solidarity. Although this comrade’s arguments have doubtless been seized on by centrists everywhere in order to get the Polish ‘government’ off the hook, Trory, with his knowledge of the socialist countries, must know as well as we do how empty and meaningless his arguments are.

The first point to note is the position of the party inside the Polish unions. It is hardly one amongst a number of competing political groups. Similarly, what relationship exists between the party and the ‘government’ in Poland? Trory knows as well as us that any distinctions which can be made are, in a real sense, purely formal. That is precisely why at the end of our last article on Polish coal we suggested that comrades protest to the Polish party and call on it to fulfil its vanguard, internationalist duty. We demanded that the party in Poland used its strategic position both in the new Polish trade unions and in the state apparatus to fight for international class solidarity.

Did Trory and his ilk really object to our call for communists in Poland to lead Polish trade unionists into solidarity actions with miners in Britain? He actually gasped in horror that we suggested that our comrades in Poland get the Polish ‘government’ to break the international contracts signed with capitalist states that were being used to sabotage the miners’ strike. He thus graphically illustrated the conservative nature of all centrist currents both in the Communist Party and those once in it like Trory. In their blockheaded attempts to defend Polish socialism, they in fact commit crimes against and endanger the very system they are trying to protect. For if these people really insist that the Polish ‘government’ should act just like any other ‘government’, then it will be Trory and the people who think like him who will bear the awesome responsibility for when the Polish ‘government’ comes to be seen by militant striking miners as no different, and certainly no better, than strike-breaking capitalist government anywhere in the world.

Some of the more idiotic sects on the fringe of the British revolutionary movement have accused The Leninist of aping the type of condemnations of the Polish party that have filled the pages of the Trotskyite press. Such claims in fact tell us far more about the people who make them than about The Leninist. And so, for the benefit of those who uphold their brain death as evidence of their ‘pro-Sovietism’, we will point out a few important differences. We presented our critic­isms of the Polish party in the spirit of the world movement to which we belong. We criticised our fellowcommunists not as a trend outside and opposed to the international workers’ movement, but as an integral part of it.

The same obviously cannot be said of the Trotskyites. Their denunciations of the Polish party were not intended to strengthen and aid communists in Poland, but, on the contrary, to give succour to the scab, yellow ‘union’, Solidarność. Of course, they have had a problem in this. Scargill was brave enough to stand up against the ‘united front’ that the Trotskyites formed with the bourgeoisie in order to cheer on counterrevolution in Poland when he correctly branded Solidarność as “anti­-socialist”.

Over the recent period, however, the Trot press has been buzzing with the news that the Solidarność underground has passed resolutions in support of the British miners. For example, the particularly unpleasant Trot organisation, Socialist Organiser,3 a group which openly confesses that it finds ‘free’ capitalist countries pre­ferable to the ‘totalitarian’ east, gleefully contrasted Solidarność’s supposed stand in favour of the miners to the strike-breaking of the Polish government. The voice of Solidarność, they claimed, was the voice of “condemnation of the Polish government for helping Thatcher”.

They went on to quote from a Solidarność resolution: “The slave labour of the Polish miner serves to break the resist­ance of the British miner. British miner! ... in the prevailing condi­tions of terror, the Polish workers’ movement is at present not in the position to undertake protest actions. But you may be certain that we are in solidarity with you.”4

This resolution apparently came from an inter-factory network of the Mazowsze region which includes Warsaw and surrounding towns. But just how much credence should we give to this resolution or others like it? It is not entirely unexpected that Solidarność supporters in Poland would assure their audience that they approve of the miners’ strike. After all, it would hardly be good public relations to say they were against it. Also, in reality it is now simply Trotskyite wishful thinking to imply that Solidarność is still alive as a secular organisation with roots in the Polish working class.

In actual fact, Solidarność now exists for the most part either as small grouplets of pro-imperialist intellectuals or is organised in the orbit of the Catholic church. Thus there is quite a neat division of labour inside the Polish church - its upper echelons emphasise ‘dialogue’ and ‘compromise’ with the govern­ment, while, beneath its protective cassock, the militant anti-communist priests work away to undermine socialism from within: “... at the same time as the church continues its dialogue with the government, tacit understand­ing exists between church leaders and the militant priests that the essential ideas of Solidarity are to survive under church protection, even after the organisation has been eradicated.”5

A good example of the “essential ideas” of Solidarność are preached, for instance, by Father Jerzy Popiełuszko of Warsaw. At an August 13 1983 memorial mass in Gdansk to celebrate the start of the 1980 strike in the Lenin shipyard, Father Popiełuszko spoke to an overflowing church: “Maria (ie, the Virgin Mary) was there to help us battle the Bolshevik tide in 1920 ... Maria, you are with us in war and peace. Pray for us, for those in jail. Give the people a victory.”6

This charming little invocation of reaction in the forms of mysticism and the semi-fascist Pilsudski is the real “voice” of Solidarność and fully vindicates Scargill’s “anti-socialist” definition.

So does this ugly, scab organisation really ‘support’ the British miners? Hardly. While the ‘underground’ in Poland predictably passes ‘lefty’ solidarity messages for the consump­tion of western Trotskyites, Solidarność’s real position on the strike was given by an altogether more authori­tative figure: one Mr Lech Wałęsa. Interviewed in the Sunday Mirror of July 29, Wałęsa had nothing but praise for the government’s handling of the strike: “With such a wise and brave women (ie, Thatcher), Britain will find a solution to the strike.”

True, the “wise and brave woman” plans to ‘solve’ the strike bysmashing it. The opposite perspective - that of a workers’ victory - seems to worry Mr Wałęsa: “I disagree with any violence. The workers should demand the maximum, but not at the risk of bankrupting the employer”. Wałęsa’s concern for the solvency of British capitalism is touching - though it is a pity he did not show as much concern for the state of Polish socialism.

So we have a suggestion for our Trotskyite friends. Instead of trying to squeeze blood from a stone as far as Solidarność and the British miners are concerned, why not start to feature the real messages and actions of solidarity, such as those from the Soviet unions and other genuine workers’ organisa­tions around the world?

Will Trory and his co-thinkers now sycophantically ‘welcome’ the call from the Polish miners’ union that they will fight to black coal exports to Britain? Our various centrist opponents have argued that The Leninist was somehow undermining socialism in Poland by our criticism. In reply, we refer them to the remarks of that well-known ‘anti-Soviet’, Lenin:

There is one, and only one, kind of internationalism and that is - working whole-heartedly for the development of the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own country, and supporting ... this struggle,this and only this line, in every country without exception.7

Where that line is unforthcoming, it is our duty to criticise, not only for the advancement of workers’ struggles in this country, but precisely to consolidate the material conquests that our class has made internationally. Our critic­ism is, at the end of the day, the best possible defence of Polish socialism.

William Hughes

October 1984


1. The Leninist August 1984.

2. The Leninist September 1984. The prime mover in the 1977 formation of the New Communist Party was CPGB member Sid French and his Surrey district power base - with 700 or so founding members it was the largest split in the CPGB to that date. The NCP was a left Stalinist and - despite some left leaning positions on issues such as Ireland, for instance - it quickly settled into a routine of recycling trade union press releases, the latest policy twists of the bureaucracy and auto-pro-Labourism.

3. Today, the equally unpleasant Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

4. From a resolution by Underground Solidarność in Mazowsze region. Quoted in Socialist Organiser, No.191, August 9 1984.

5. Financial Times August 26 1983.

6. Quoted in Ibid.

7. Lenin CWVol 24, Moscow 1977, p74.