Lech Walesa: Sad sell-out still slamming socialism

Just after the Berlin Wall fell, I wondered what would become of Poland, and now I know the answer: NOTHING GOOD. The country sure has gone to hell in a capitalist handbasket. It has all the hallmarks to go with it, from a pair of fascist twins who were, until recently, in power, to a decline in marriage and fertility rates (and this in spite of the fascist twins so staunchly opposing abortion, birth control, homosexuality and all the other “traditional” enemies of family life.) The promises of democracy have only partly been kept; there are still a slew of human-rights problems, including (though the State Dept. report doesn’t mention it) CIA torture centres. Polish women, finding their rights trampled at home (where joblessness is also still a major problem), are seeking work abroad, mainly in Sweden and the British Isles. Shit, the authorities there don’t even care if a woman goes blind as a result of pregnancy. Presumably God and the Free Market will look after her betwixt themselves.

Ironically, in the early post-communist days, it looked as if this massive fuck-up wouldn’t have happened. Even though the Catholic church immediately pushed for a strict anti-abortion law, the majority of Poles were against it. For that matter, they were against a lot of the so-called “free market reforms”, too. But all of this got pushed down their collective throats, and incredibly, there has not been a revolt.

And for the human embodiment of what a mess this acceptance of the unacceptable has made of Poland, one need only look at what happened to the man who was once a national hero, the champion of freedom in Poland…Lech Walesa. He, too, is someone who struck all the wrong compromises at all the crucial moments.

I remember the fuss that was made about Walesa and his union federation, Solidarity, in the early 1980s. A union that was, in its own words, all about “socialism, yes–its distortions, no”–behind the Iron Curtain? Unthinkable. And yet, there it was. It was a new, organically evolved, hybrid form of socialism, one that embraced religion rather than dismissing it as doctrinaire Marxists do (as the Opiate of the Masses.) It wanted, among other things, a new, more open relationship between Poland and the West. And yet, it was not inherently a right-wing, capitalist movement. It was simply a broad-based movement, incorporating political tendencies from all across the spectrum, for greater workers’ freedom–or so it began.

It did not remain what it was at the outset.

Perhaps it was inevitable that this would happen. Even in its first year, Solidarity was an unstable coalition, vocal about its goals but less definite about how to attain them. Colin Barker, writing for International Socialism, gives us an insight:

Everyone looked to Solidarity for a lead. This was a dilemma for a movement that did not aspire to power. The union leaders’ response was to seek to stem the onward march of their own side.

In March a massive crisis erupted in the city of Bydgoszcz. Solidarity members occupying an office went to the local prefecture to negotiate with party representatives. A couple of hundred police invaded the room and systematically beat up the Solidarity men, among them a national leader of the union, Jan Rulewski. This was the first time open force had been used against the union. Half a million workers across the whole Bydgoszcz area erupted into strike. By the time a national delegate meeting, 300-strong, was held on 23 March, the pressure coming from the grassroots for national action was overwhelming. A highly successful national four-hour strike was accompanied by preparations for an unlimited general strike which would begin on 31 March if the union’s demands were not met.

The atmosphere in Poland was electric, as both sides prepared for a decisive confrontation. Strike headquarters were designated in the largest factories in each region, fortified with barricade materials.

The premier, Jaruzelski, turned to the church for support. Direct pressure was applied to Lech Walesa through an hour’s private meeting with the cardinal, and at the last moment Walesa appeared on TV to announce the strike was called off.

The general strike’s sudden cancellation was a serious setback, throwing the union back on itself. The aftermath saw a partial demobilisation of the membership. For more than three months there were no strikes. Attendance at union gatherings declined.

The economic crisis deepened in the spring and summer of 1981. The supply of everyday goods was steadily worsening. Meat rations were cut, and soap, detergent, toilet paper were all in short supply. The crisis provoked a new eruption of working class protest. The response of the leadership was cool and sometimes hostile. When the regime alleged that Solidarity was sabotaging the economy, the leadership called for a two-month moratorium on strikes. At one point in late September two thirds of Poland’s provinces were affected by strikes. These upsurges from below remained fragmented and incoherent, isolated from each other. No section of the leadership attempted to link them together, showing how they might be combined in a new assault on the regime. Eventually, from mid- November, the strike wave died down–the membership was increasingly exhausted, turning away in disappointment from the union.

Was Lech Walesa a strong leader, as the press here liked to lionize him as being? I don’t get that impression, reading this. The willingness to basically fall down and compromise was visible in him from the start–and he did this even as the Solidarity membership was chomping at the bit! So he ended up losing credibility and support, right at the moments when he could have been doing his damnedest to justify the immense faith the Polish people had in him at first. He choked, he coughed, he fell down. And so, in the end, did Solidarity, though it would spend the next several years going up and down like a malaria victim’s fever chart.

I admit I wasn’t much interested in Solidarity’s ups and downs. I was in my teens at the time; I’m Canadian and of German, not Polish, descent. The intricacies and subtleties of it were lost to me, because I couldn’t speak the language. I knew SOMETHING significant was happening, because that’s what the media all said it was, but they did not explain to me or anyone what the hell was so all-fired significant about it, beyond the fact that it was, in their eyes anyway, a pure revolt against communism. And also that there was a big counter-coup going on at the institutional level; Reader’s Digest pointed the finger at the Polish authorities when a popular priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, was brutally murdered. Father Jerzy, or “Jurek” as his friends called him, was the chaplain to Solidarity members at the Warsaw steelworks. He was beaten unconscious, thrown in the trunk of a car belonging to the secret police, and not seen again. Ten days later his body was pulled from a reservoir, bou
nd, gagged, and showing signs of the most horrific tortures imaginable.

Except for these moments of high drama, the Polish situation remained opaque to me. Only the grossest simplifications, as pushed by the mainstream media, filtered through to my fickle, preoccupied adolescent and post-adolescent consciousness. All I heard was a steady refrain of “capitalism good, socialism-which-is-really-communism bad”. After nearly three decades of being unable to make real sense of things in Poland, I’m on a steep learning curve here. I feel today that I have been misled and betrayed by the media, and so do a great many Poles, no doubt.

What’s obvious now, is that everyone started out having high expectations of Solidarity, and that everyone except a power-mad few ended up with nothing real to show for all the work and all the tears. Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine, documents how Poland’s democratic hopes were hijacked by neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism both; her work explained the inexplicable to me better than anyone else’s could.

Which brings us back to Lech Walesa. This is the man who fell down, REPEATEDLY, on the job of leading Poland out of–no, not communism (which has never truly existed, outside of a few Israeli kibbutzim), but state capitalism, and into what should have been (but never did become) socialist democracy. He lost an election to a former communist, which should tell you something about him. And he is now presuming to pronounce on the situation in Venezuela. Get a load of it:

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa on Monday criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s left-wing brand of leadership.

“The ideas of the ruling team (in Venezuela) are very bad ideas,” Walesa said in a television interview.

“I am the best proof that communism fell because it was a bad system,” Walesa said. “And introducing it there (in Venezuela) is the biggest mistake of the region.”

Uh, Lech? He’s not a communist, and Venezuela’s new system is most emphatically NOT communism. The PCV, the actual communist party of Venezuela, is not the PSUV, which is the United Socialist Party of Venezuela–the party of Chavecito–although, in all elections since 1998, the PCV has supported Chávez or candidates associated with him. But they would be the first to admit that communism–real communism, not state capitalism–has not happened under him, even as they hope he will help them to make it happen.

After all this time, Lech, you still don’t understand the difference between communism and socialism, let alone between two leftist parties in a South American country that was rising up against neoliberalism before that shit even hit yours? I pity you, man. You’re not the “best proof” of anything, other than that it doesn’t pay to sell out.

And boy, did you ever. First to the Polish secret police, then to the capitalists. Helluva a track record you got there, Lech. That makes you a uniquely UNqualified man to comment on the political situation in Venezuela, though happily (or unhappily, for your credibility), you are still not persona non grata there.

Now, a few corrective words about Venezuela. Or rather, a few pictures. This is how pure capitalism went down in that country, a few months before the Berlin Wall fell:

…and that’s how Chavecito got democratically elected to power. It was a rejection of the neoliberal model that had been antidemocratically imposed from above and without, NOT a rejection of democracy. In fact, this was all about sweeping capitalism away so real democracy could take hold.

That, in a nutshell, is why things like this ring so hollow and preposterous to those who are truly informed:

Walesa, 65, dropped plans to attend a pro-democracy forum this week organized by anti-Chavez university students in Venezuela after the country’s authorities said they could not guarantee his security.

Walesa took it as a sign that he was not welcome there.

“They have elections coming up there and some people are afraid of me,” Walesa said, noting that his voice “counts there” because many opposition members are his friends and extended the invitation to him.

I notice the article (extremely vague, superficial, and thus, poorly written) doesn’t name those “many opposition members” who are Walesa’s “friends”. I have my own suspicions as to who they are, though. A man who is capable of selling out to not one, but two brands of spooks, is entirely capable of being seduced by a third contingent. No doubt they thought they’d scored a propaganda coup by getting a Nobel Peace Prize winner on side, but that’s not saying much; Henry Kissinger is one too, and what the hell did that man ever do in the name of peace?

My advice to Lech Walesa is to go right ahead to Venezuela and give his little talkie, even if they can’t guarantee him the security he wants. Hell, since he’s so into neoliberalism now and all, he can just bring his own little private army, or his hosts can supply one (made in the USA, like Blackwater) if they really want him there. After all, isn’t privatization of public services what they’re all about? They’re rich enough, God knows; let them pay for it out of their own deep pockets. Why so stingy, guys? Why are you expecting the Venezuelan government, the same one you hate so much, to do it all for you? Isn’t that SOCIALISM?

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6 Responses to Lech Walesa: Sad sell-out still slamming socialism

  1. Utpal says:

    I don’t understand the problem with security. The Vennie opposition has plenty of access to money and private security services … couldn’t they have provided them? (The event went as planned, and there were other ex heads of state in the event apparently, including an ex president of Bulgaria, so what was the problem with Walesa?)

  2. I get the impression he’s trying to show that he’s still relevant somehow–that he’s still a valiant, Washington-approved “freedom fighter”, when in fact most of the world has gotten over him (and Poland wishes it could, too). Maybe someone fed him a line, knowing that he’d run with it: “Nobel winner barred from Venezuela by commie dictator Chávez”!
    Only, of course, it’s all bull. The authorities can’t guarantee him security because he represents a discredited economic policy that, in Venezuela, was discredited long before he imposed it on Poland. The people remember that, and they wouldn’t appreciate Walesa coming in and telling them they have a dictator when in fact they just got rid of two that held them hostage for decades–the IMF and the World Bank. The worst that would actually happen is that he’d be publicly booed and maybe pelted with rotten fruit. I’d say the government did him a favor by warning him, but they should have been more explicit about what exactly they couldn’t protect him from–namely, his own bad reputation preceding him.

  3. Utpal says:

    Bina, have you ever studied your cluster map? It’s interesting you seem to have an avid reader of your blog in Calcutta, and then a smaller circle somewhere in China (like, near Canton or Hong Kong) … I am curious who these people are 🙂

  4. Yeah, me too. I notice there’s one that appears to be in Virginia. Langley, I wonder?

  5. Utpal says:

    That could be just DC (borev)

  6. Could be…could also be a friend of mine from the boards who lives in the region.
    I’m kind of surprised to see how many readers come from the Deep South and Ozarks region, though. The anti-hillbillies?

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