Poland in 1991

A solid Catholic

by Gwydion M. Williams

The whole epoch of Leninist regimes in Eastern Europe was more or less an accident. None of them came to power by their own strength, all of them were simply creations of the Red Army. Only in Czechoslovakia did Communism have strong local roots, and the Red Army destroyed those in 1968.

Khrushchev’s Secret Speech of 1956 disrupted Communism as an ideology. He made it the Moscow line that what Stalin had done was not exactly right. And yet it wasn’t held to be exactly wrong either – few of Stalin’s deeds were specifically criticised, except for some of the later purges. The matter was not allowed to be debated publicly, so no one within the framework of official Communism was ever allowed to straighten out the matter.

Under Stalin, a large part of the working class had been drawn into the official ideology, and made enthusiastic for it The sort of sneaky evasions that were engaged in by the party and state bureaucracies after 1956 were hardly likely to keep this enthusiasm. You had the absurdity of regimes that claimed to represent the working class, but which the working class was alienated from.

People cannot exist without some sort of framework of ideas. If the Prague Spring had been allowed, some sort of Social Democratic development might have proved the alternative. But it wasn’t, and the long years of repression favoured ideologies that were uncompromisingly hostile to the corrupt Leninist states. In Poland, especially, a right-wing Catholic populism became the centre of resistance. Its nature was obscured by the diversity of allies it had in its struggle against the state, but now things are out in the open.

Lech Walesa is now President of Poland, and his main rival was an eccentric emigre and right-wing libertarian. So be it. After being repressed for so long, it is hardly strange that Poles are going back to older aspects of their culture – including anti-semitism, despite the tiny residual number of Polish Jews. Democratic politics have been established, and what has changed once can change again.

[Sadly, the worse aspects have been winning out over the last three decades.]

These comment appeared in Newsnotes for January 1991, in Issue 21 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/.