THE ROOTS OF SOLIDARITY: 1970–1980
FIRST SOLIDARITY: 1980–1981
Conceived in 1980 as the first autonomous labor union in the Soviet bloc, the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity" (Niezalėzny Samoządny Związek Zawodowy "Solidarność") challenged the authority of the one-party state in Poland and the communist system at large.
The direct origins of Solidarity date back to the 1970 workers' rising on the Baltic Sea coast and the birth of the democratic opposition in the mid-1970s. In broader terms, however, its emergence in Poland can be attributed to several essential features of twentieth-century Polish history. First, during the period of partitions (1795–1918), the Poles developed a strong sense of national identity, which included fervent nationalism, ardent Catholicism, and resistance to foreign domination. Second, the nation's cultural elite, the intelligentsia, enriched these values with the ethos of grass-roots activism. Finally, it was the failure of the communist regime to win total control over society that led to a series of political upheavals and crises culminating in the birth of Solidarity.
At the end of World War II, Poland found itself in the sphere of Soviet influence. Border shifts, population transfers, and the destruction of Jews had made Poland an ethnically homogenous and predominantly Catholic country. Polish Communists benefited from the help of the Soviet army and quickly consolidated power. However, in contrast to other communist states, the Communist Party—the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR)—never succeeded in conquering two vestiges of pluralism: private agriculture and the Roman Catholic Church. Recruited mostly from among peasants, the new industrial labor force held to its traditional customs including ardent religiosity, while the church preserved traditional values constituting an alternative community to the party-state.
The inability of the Communist Party to fully dominate society also stemmed from its internal divisions and relatively frequent changes of leadership. The immediate postwar period saw the ascent to power of Wladyslaw Gomulka (1905–1982), a Communist leader who advocated the "Polish road to socialism," acknowledging the country's national and socioeconomic specificities rather than mimicking the Soviet model. Persecuted under Stalinism, Gomulka returned to power in 1956. He halted collectivization, reinstated religious tolerance, relaxed censorship, and passed economic reforms. From the mid-1960s, however, Gomulka grew increasingly authoritarian. Having antagonized liberal intellectuals, party reformers, and the clergy, the regime embraced aggressive nationalism to legitimize its flagging rule. In 1968 it launched an anti-Semitic campaign and brutally suppressed student protests. The ideological and moral bankruptcy of communism in Poland paved the way for the birth of the new democratic opposition, no longer interested in reforming the system, but rather determined to pursue alternative solutions.
The Gomulka government was toppled by the workers' strikes against food price increases of December 1970. After the massacre of strikers in the coastal cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, the party politburo ousted Gomulka. The new party leader, Edward Gierek (1913–2001), believed that consumerism, not ideology and coercion, was the key to winning social compliance. Loans from Western banks facilitated his ambitious program of rapid modernization, helped to increase wages, and brought greater availability of consumer goods. But overheated investment combined with incompetent management and rampant corruption soon led to an economic slowdown. In June 1976, after the announcement of food price increases, strikes and social protests erupted in several cities, most notably in Radom, where demonstrators besieged and burned party buildings. The government rescinded its plans but suppressed the riots with utmost brutality. Hundreds of workers were beaten, jailed, and sacked from their jobs.
The pacification of protests mobilized dissident intellectuals, who in September 1976 formed the Komitet Obrony Robotników (Committee for the Defense of Workers, or KOR). The original task of assisting arrested workers soon broadened into the promotion of human and civil rights, underground publishing, and the creation of free trade unions. Among its leading activists were the dissidents Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik, the writer Jerzy Andrzejewski, the literary scholar Jan Józef Lipski, and the Catholic priest Jan Zieja.
Above all, the KOR sought to build a civil society and ensure an independent and democratic public active outside of state control. The group's agenda was elaborated in essays by the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, Kuroń, and Michnik, who argued that while a socialist system would not be democratized from above, it could be transformed by pressure applied from below by self-organized social groups. Soon KOR members made forays into the working class helping to organize the Free Trade Unions of the Coast in Gdańsk in 1978. Among the union's most outspoken activists was a young electrician, Lech Wałęsa. An employee of the Lenin Shipyard, Wałęsa took part in the 1970 strike. In 1976 he was fired for vehement criticism of the state-sponsored unions, democratic agitation, and calls for the commemoration of fallen workers. Introduced to the Gdańsk opposition milieu by a KOR member, Bogdan Borusewicz, Wałęsa joined the Free Unions in 1978. In 1979 he was one of the signatories of the Charter of Workers' Rights, which called for the right to strike, independent labor unions, and just wages.
In addition to the KOR, other groups emerged, including the Movement for the Defense of Human and Civil Rights (ROPCiO), and the Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPN). The alliance of intelligentsia and workers that began to materialize under the tutelage of the KOR was boosted by the rapprochement between opposition intellectuals and the Roman Catholic Church, the strongest autonomous institution in the country. These developments coupled with the leniency of Gierek, who was careful not to alienate Western creditors by brutalizing dissidents, transformed Poland into a major center of opposition to communism in the Soviet bloc. As the opposition provided revolutionary cadres, the Roman Catholic Shipyard, Wale Church offered spiritual mobilization. The naming of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Kraków, as Pope John Paul II in 1978, followed by his visit to Poland in 1979, brought about sense of moral reawakening and transformed the Polish public. In his farewell address, the pope urged his compatriots to "have the courage to go the way no one has followed before" (Luxmoore and Babiuch, p. 217). It was not long before the country experienced a cataclysmic political upheaval in 1980.
Rising foreign debt, economic slowdown, and an alarming discrepancy between imports and exports prompted the Gierek regime to introduce radical price adjustments for inflation and to cut down meat supplies for domestic markets in the summer of 1980. As work stoppages spread across Poland, free trade union activists from the coast and KOR members decided to launch a strike in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. The shipyard went on strike on 14 August 1980. Workers combined economic demands with political postulates calling for the reinstatement of a free trade union activist, Anna Walentynowicz, and of Wał/ęsa; the erection of a monument to the victims of the 1970 shootings; and compensatory pay increases. Under the leadership of Wałęsa, the Międzyzakladowy Komitet Strajowy (Interfactory Strike Committee, MKS) was formed in the Baltic region, demanding independent trade unions, the right to strike, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and various economic concessions. By the end of August, political strikes had swept the entire country. On 31 August, Wałęsa and Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed the Gdańsk agreement, in which the government conceded to most of the strikers' demands, including the right to form independent labor unions. Similar accords were concluded in Szczecin and Jastrzębie.
The August accords brought down the Gierek regime. The Soviets perceived the agreements as a temporary compromise and expected that the Polish Communists would gradually dismantle the workers' movement. But on 17 September 1980, delegates of thirty-five regional strike committees and several opposition activists set up the national federation of trade unions, the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity," with Wałęsa as its chairman. After the government blocked its registration, Solidarity launched a general warning strike. Yielding to popular pressure, the regime agreed to legalize the union in exchange for Solidarity's recognition of the party's leading role in the state in November 1980. In December 1980, private farmers founded Rural Solidarity. By the end of that year, Solidarity had nine million members, and by the following spring ten million. It was a nationwide social movement functioning outside the party's control and encompassing all sectors of society including people from a variety of political persuasions.
Throughout 1981 Solidarity underwent increasing radicalization. The national congress of Solidarity, held in September and October 1981, adopted the program of the "Self-Governing Republic," in which citizens would take responsibility for various political, social, and cultural matters. The government, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski (b. 1923), grew intransigently hostile toward the union. Subjected to pressure from Moscow and keen to reinstate the party's authority, Jaruzelski set about destroying Solidarity by force. On 13 December 1981 he imposed martial law. As the military and police took total control of the country, civil rights and all political and social organizations were suspended. Thousands of Solidarity activists, including most of its leaders, were arrested and detained. In October 1982 the Polish parliament formally dissolved the union.
After the imposition of martial law, Solidarity continued underground under the command of those leaders who had escaped arrest. The union launched political strikes, organized campaigns of civil disobedience, and built a framework of independent institutions. Still, the underground Solidarity failed to mobilize the weary population. The lifting of martial law in 1983 indicated the regime's self-confidence. However, in the same year the government suffered a major blow when Wałęsa received the Nobel Peace Prize. Even more devastating was the brutal assassination of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a staunch supporter of Solidarity, by a group of security policemen. In a desperate face-saving gesture, Jaruzelski had the killers arrested, tried, and sentenced to prison terms. Following this period of immediate repression, the general softened his policies, releasing political prisoners, allowing channels of pluralism, and implementing economic reforms. With the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev (b. 1931) to power in the Soviet Union, Jaruzelski followed and at times expanded the Soviet pattern of perestroika in the hope of winning society's compliance and achieving economic recovery while preserving the power of the party.
During the 1980s neither the underground Solidarity nor the Communist regime had enough power to eliminate its opponents. This stalemate continued until 1988, when government austerity measures sparked a wave of strikes. But the strikers' major demand was the re-legalization of Solidarity. The Polish Roundtable Talks between Solidarity and the government that concluded in April 1989 legalized the union and provided for its participation in parliamentary elections. In June 1989 Solidarity won 99 of 100 seats in the Senate and all of the 169 freely contested seats in the Sejm (lower house). The formation of the Solidarity-led coalition government led by Tadeusz Mazowiecki in August 1989 marked the end of communism in Poland and sparked the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe.
In 1990 Solidarity underwent political fragmentation over the issues of free-market reforms, decommunization, and Wałęsa's bid for the presidency. During the presidential elections of that year, Wałęsa defeated Mazowiecki, and the Solidarity parliamentary club split into new political parties. Solidarity continued as a trade union. Radicalized and discontented by rising unemployment and other side effects of the economic transition, the union brought down Hanna Suchocka's center-right coalition government in 1993, paving the way for the electoral victory of former Communists. In 1995 Wałęsa lost the presidential elections to Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Communist. Two years later, Solidarity helped to build the center-right Electoral Action "Solidarity," which won the 1997 election. However, in 2001 Solidarity gained only a fraction of the vote, failing to enter parliament.
Lech Wałęsa, whose popularity plummeted in the 1990s (in the 2000 presidential elections he received only 1 percent of the vote) reentered politics acting as a mediator in the Ukrainian political crisis in 2005. The parliamentary elections of September 2005 saw the victory of two center-right parties, partly recruited from former Solidarity members, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO). In the October 2005 presidential election, Lech Kaczyński, a former Solidarity activist, defeated Donald Tusk, another veteran of the democratic opposition.
Garton Ash, Timothy. The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1980–82. London, 1983.
Kubik, Jan. The Power of Symbols against the Symbols of Power: The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland. University Park, Pa., 1994.
Laba, Roman. The Roots of Solidarity. Princeton, N.J., 1991.
Lipski, Jan Józef. KOR: A History of the Workers' Defense Committee in Poland, 1976–1981. Translated by Olga Amsterdamska and Gene M. Moore. Berkeley, Calif., 1985.
Luxmoore, Janathan, and Jolanta Babiuch. The Vatican and the Red Flag: The Struggle for the Soul of Eastern Europe. London, 1999.
Ost, David. Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968. Philadelphia, 1990.
Paczkowski, Andrzej. The Spring Will Be Ours: Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom. Translated by Jane Cave. University Park, Pa., 2003.
Solidarity, often referred to as social solidarity, is a fundamental concept in the scientific study of human societies, cultures, and social relations. Researchers who were concerned to discover why societies cohere (and why they may disintegrate) hypothesized that social cohesion may be due to ideas or feelings people have about one another. Alternatively, structural conditions, such as a particular arrangement of social roles and relations, might foster conditions producing human unity.
Social theorist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) first wrote about the problem of social solidarity in The Division of Labor in Society (1893). Durkheim considered society as a moral force characterized by a fundamental duality: Individual consciousnesses comprised the social entity even while society’s norms imposed constraint on any single individual. As societies change, the type of solidarity that “glues” society together also changes. Social solidarity of undifferentiated societies, or mechanical solidarity, is based on likeness (e.g., the cultural similarity of each member of a tribe). Industrial societies cohere because of organic solidarity, based on the interdependency of dissimilar individuals (e.g., occupational diversity due to the division of labor).
Feelings of solidarity are encouraged when individuals strongly identify with a collectivity. Durkheim saw this as one of the bases for religious sentiments. In every religion, boundaries are drawn between the sacred and profane. Through this type of categorization, Durkheim explains, humans both create a moral ordering for social life and develop the conceptual apparatus necessary for rational thought. “The categories of the understanding” are “born in religion and of religion” (Durkheim  1965, pp. 21–22). Conceptualizations of time, space, class, causality, and so forth, although linked to brain function, are elaborated and interpreted differently in different cultures. The source of this variation is the social collectivity representing a collective conscience. In Durkheim’s view, the collective conscience is expressed through “collective representations,” or symbols. These cultural symbols “are the result of an immense cooperation, which stretches out not only into space but into time as well; to make them, a multitude of minds have combined their ideas and sentiments” ( 1965, p. 29). Because collective representations express the heritage of an individual as well as provide the intellectual framework for his understandings, the person feels himself linked to a tradition and standards of behavior. Thus, the individual’s ideas and feelings stem from a source beyond his personal experience; they come from society itself.
A stable social order rests on the solidarity of its people. What happens when social stability is threatened, through crime, for example? Durkheim argues, somewhat paradoxically, that crime and punishment (the reaction to crime) reinforce the social order. When an infraction is defined as criminal, it places the person who committed the crime outside the social order and deems him worthy of punishment. Those who have not transgressed are affirmed in their status as the law-abiding citizens. Durkheim argues that crime thus builds social solidarity and cohesiveness. Contemporary scholars counter that Durkheim’s vision presents an oversocialized conception of humans. For example, Allen Liska and Barbara Warner’s (1991) research shows that fear of crime may undermine social solidarity in U.S. neighborhoods where criminal behavior is not checked by authorities. Similarly, Teresa P. R. Caldeira’s (2000) research on São Paolo indicates that multiple processes linking crime, poverty, and social status in a context of weak or corrupt policing can lead to increasing social isolation and the fragmentation of public spaces. This, in turn, undermines the potential for democratic development. Liska and Warner’s research ultimately supports the Durkheimian position by arguing that the stabilization of crime in certain areas leads to social withdrawal, constraining “opportunities for crime, thereby decreasing both robbery and other crimes” (Liska and Warner 1991, p. 1441). Caldeira’s research, by contrast, challenges the Durkheimian argument by suggesting that “social solidarity” under some repressive conditions is merely an expression of class, caste, or ethnic identification.
If excessive crime and lawlessness indicate the breakdown of society and solidarity, utopian or intentional communities present an idealized vision of a cohesive social order. In Commitment and Community, Rosabeth Moss Kanter identifies a social order of perfect solidarity where society is maintained through individual commitment, not coercion. This is an “imagined utopia,” in which “humankind’s deepest yearnings, noblest dreams, and highest aspirations come to fulfillment, where all physical, social, and spiritual forces work together, in harmony, to permit the attainment of everything people find necessary and desirable” (Kanter 1972, p. 1). History abounds with numerous attempts by religious or political idealists to create such societies in miniature. Despite repeated tries, none have found an ideology or set of social arrangements that invariably induces persons to want to do what they have to do: to follow society’s rules without question or resistance. In short, there are limits to social solidarity’s hold over the individual.
Whereas the ideational approach focuses on symbols, feelings, and identities, a structural approach to social solidarity identifies relational connections among individuals as key for maintaining social order and cohesion. James Moody and Douglas White articulate a social network conception of solidarity that defines structural cohesion formally as “the minimum number of actors who, if removed from a group, would disconnect the group.” Society, in their view, is built up “through the hierarchical nesting of … cohesive [network] structures” (Moody and White 2003, p. 103). The structural perspective is theoretically indebted to Durkheim’s argument in The Division of Labor and Georg Simmel’s (1858–1918) research on group formation, but methodologically, network analysis draws from graph theory in mathematics. This combination of theoretical and formal traditions allows for greater operational specification of the concept of social solidarity, as well as empirical analysis of how solidarity functions in reality. Using network analytic techniques, researchers are able to determine where, within a social network, relations are most stable and where they are likely to break down. This represents a scientific advance in the field, which is yielding promising results.
Since the nineteenth century, social theorists have viewed solidarity as a key factor underlying the problem of order in society. Durkheim’s writings provided a strong impetus for two lines of theorizing: ideational and structural. Sociologists of religion and anthropologists were most interested in Durkheim’s arguments about the religious basis of solidarity feelings, concepts, and symbols. Criminologists followed Durkheim in his interest in the social functions of crime. Social network theorists have drawn from Durkheim and others to develop a formal definition of social cohesion, or solidarity, in order to investigate varying social structures. Each line of investigation has increased human knowledge of the internal dynamics and power of social connection.
SEE ALSO Caste; Class; Collective Action; Communalism; Communitarianism; Crime and Criminology; Durkheim, Émile; Ethnicity; Identity; Networks; Networks, Communication; Putnam, Robert; Race; Social Capital; Social Movements; Sociology
Caldeira, Teresa P. R. 2000. City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Durkheim, Émile.  1933. The Division of Labor in Society. Trans. George Simpson. New York: Macmillan.
Durkheim, Émile.  1965. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Trans. Joseph Ward Swain. New York: Free Press.
Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. 1972. Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Liska, Allen E., and Barbara D. Warner. 1991. Functions of Crime: A Paradoxical Process. American Journal of Sociology 96 (6): 1441–1463.
Merry, Sally Engle. 2002. Urban Danger: Life in a Neighborhood of Strangers. In Urban Life: Readings in the Anthropology of the City, eds. George Gmelch and Walter P. Zenner, 115–129. 4th ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
Moody, James, and Douglas R. White. 2003. Structural Cohesion and Embeddedness: A Hierarchical Concept of Social Groups. American Sociological Review 68 (1): 103–127.
Solidarity, as defined by Pope john paul ii, represents "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say for the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all" (Sollicitudo rei socialis, no. 38). Solidarity is a recurring theme in the writings of John Paul II. In the encyclical centesimus annus he says that the term describes "one of the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organization," and notes that previous popes have identified the same principle under the name "friendship" (Leo XIII), "social charity" (Pius XI), and "the civilization of love" (PaulVI) (no. 3). John Paul II's repeated appeal to this principle in a variety of contexts makes it clear that solidarity is neither a vague feeling of compassion or commiseration, nor the union of one group in society over against another. Though the pope uses the word to describe the union of workers against the degradation of their work (Laborem exercens, no. 8), he insists that solidarity "aims at the good of social justice," and is not undertaken "for the sake of 'struggle' or in order to eliminate the opponent" (ibid., no. 20). It is a human and Christian virtue, describing the commitment to the common good. It has three principal manifestations, according to whether the common good is taken to refer to goods, activities, or the communion of persons. This same division is found in the treatment of solidarity in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1940–1942.
According to John Paul II, the common good can consist of goods, realized in individuals, that share a common species. Because of our common humanity we can say that we share a common status, in the sense that no person is more or less human than another; that there are perfections common to us all, such as health, knowledge, and religious devotion; and that there are things whose use is inherently common, such as money, food, and technology. Each of these can be the ground of moral and legal rights, and thus can express a reason for solidarity. In sollicitudo rei socialis the "virtue" of solidarity is described initially as the willingness to make a moral response to common goods described in this way (no. 38). Likewise the Catechism says, "Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work" (no. 1940). Solidarity thus described recognizes and is committed to the virtue of distributive justice, not only on the part of the state, but also on the part of other social groups: families, unions, business enterprises.
The common good can also be realized in the common activity of individuals. John Paul applies this idea to the domestic political order, international relations, the initiatives of intermediate societies, and economic life (cf. CCC 1941). In Centesimus annus he writes:
By means of his work a person commits himself, not only for his own sake but also for others and with others. Each person collaborates in the work of others and for their good. One works in order to provide for the needs of one's family, one's community, one's nation, and ultimately all humanity. Moreover, a person collaborates in the work of his fellow employees, as well as in the work of suppliers and in the customers' use of goods, in a progressively expanding chain of solidarity. (No. 43; cf. Laborem exercens, no. 8)
Insofar as the common good is constituted by common activity, having its own inherent perfection and value, the supplanting of that activity through the intervention of "higher" powers results in the loss of the good itself. The good is not simply the external result (e.g., the just distribution of goods), but the collaborative activity whereby the external result is produced. Pope John Paul speaks also, in the same vein, of the "subjectivity" of society, constituted by "structures of participation and shared responsibility" (Centesimus annus, no.46); totalitarian societies invariably bring about "the destruction of the true subjectivity of society and of the individual citizens"—not because the State does a poor job of distributing common goods equitably, but because in such a society the individual and the people as a whole are reduced to objects.
The principal meaning of "common good" is found in the theological concept of communion: the greatest common good is the communion of persons. Papal and conciliar documents speak of "communion" typically in reference to those means by which the individual becomes part of, or grows in, the body of Christ (e.g., marriage, Eucharistic fellowship, baptism). It is this understanding of "common" that governs the others. In Sollicitudo rei socialis John Paul says:
Beyond human and natural bonds, already so close and strong, there is discerned in the light of faith a new model of the unity of the human race, which must ultimately inspire our solidarity. This supreme model of unity, which is a reflection of the intimate life of God, one God in three Persons, is what we Christians mean by the word "communion." (No. 40)
The Catechism (no. 1942) likewise speaks of solidarity involving the communication of spiritual goods. This communion has often, throughout Christian history, been the inspiration for the fostering of solidarity in temporal goods, impelling souls then and now to the heroic charity of monastic farmers, liberators of slaves, healers of the sick, and messengers of faith, civilization, and science to all generations and all peoples for the sake of creating the social conditions capable of offering to everyone possible a life worthy of man and of a Christian (Ibid., quoting a discourse of Pius XII).
Solidarity therefore involves charity as well as justice: communion in common goods and activities finds a root in the common nature of man, but it is ultimately secured by the recognition that every person is called to share in the communal life of the Trinity.
With this notion of solidarity, John Paul II has marked out the basis for an understanding of social and political life that challenges the distinctively modern notion of the political good. The revolutions of the nineteenth century produced an aggressively secularist and monistic notion of solidarity achieved by, or exemplified in, the state; in certain species of liberalism, on the other hand, a mechanistic notion of the market is given primacy. In Centesimus annus John Paul II criticizes any system that would "suffocate" the human person "between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace" (no. 49); in Evangelium vitae he warns that authentic solidarity is not compatible with the way the democracies understand themselves today. Contrary to their own constitutions, some human lives are deemed unworthy of protection. The "civilization of love" bases the social good on solidarity: the authentic interdependence of persons, leading to communion.
Bibliography: r. hittinger, "Making Sense of the Civilization of Love," In The Legacy of Pope John Paul II: His Contribution to Catholic Thought (New York 1999).
sol·i·dar·i·ty / ˌsäləˈde(ə)ritē/ • n. 1. unity or agreement of feeling or action, esp. among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group: factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students.2. (Solidarity) an independent trade union movement in Poland that developed into a mass campaign for political change and inspired popular opposition to communist regimes across eastern Europe during the 1980s.