Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Defeat of Solidarity

David Ost’s The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe (2005) is the best book of its kind I know. His central thesis is that anger is an inevitable by-product of capitalism and should be channelled into class struggle where it can do some good for ordinary workers. If not, grievances caused by economic woes are likely to be exploited by right wing radicals and populists and turned on people belonging to other creeds, races and ethnic groups (e.g. in Yugoslavia).

Instead of fighting like a normal trade union for workers’ interests, Solidarity whole-heartedly embraced neo-liberalism (even before 1989), supporting management in its introduction of painful changes. This is certainly something I came across a lot in Poland in the 1990s. Otherwise compassionate, rational people would just shrug and say “it’s bound to hurt workers. Tough.” The newspapers are worse still, with contempt for workers going totally undisguised.

That Solidarity gave up the fight on the economic front and turned to identity politics is also readily noticeable. The union weighed in behind AWS (a now defunct political party) that played the pro-Catholic and anti-abortion card while unemployment rose to 18.5% when it fell out of power and fell apart. The rise of LPR and Samoobrona, similarly, can be explained by the absence of a class-based alternative in politics to neo-liberalism. The opposition party, PiS – anyone can see – makes its political capital by attacking atheists and reds under the bed, not by presenting an alternative to the ruling party PO.

Ost did his research on the ground, visiting factories and interviewing workers and unionists but perhaps the most revealing quotation is this one: “We’ll never catch up on Europe if we build a strong trade union.” The speaker was Lech Walesa, in 1989.

Here’s a few pages from the book itself.

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