It was necessary for Solidarity to ally with the USA against Soviet domination. Yet it has been a question debated by historians since whether it was Reagan ratcheting up the Cold War rhetoric and supporting Solidarity that brought down the USSR or whether it was the USSR's economic failure the brought down the Iron Curtain.That debate will go on.
What is undoubtedly true is that historians dealing with Poland's connections with the USA have tended to ignore that the idea of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' was a useful tactic when trying to get rid of this one party state that had impoverished and retarded Poland's economy for half a century. However, it does not necessarily mean that in the post-Cold War epoch Poland should support the USA unconditionally.
That has been shown in the way "converted dissidents" such as Adam Michnik now have tranferred their oppositionist stance against the USSR into the belief that US Presidents such as George Bush was fighting a "war on terror" in invading Afghanistan in 2001 for humanitarian reasons and that it also did so when invading Iraq in 2003.
Michnik was under communism not merely a dissident but also a literary person or member of the Polish intelligensia, a man of letters who brought out after his Letters from Prison a follow up sequel Letters from Freedom which contains interviews from Gazeta Wyborcza and with literary figures like Czeslaw Milosz.
That other literary figures such as ex-Candian diplomat Peter Dale Scott supported Solidarity and dedicates his Road to 9/11, Weath, Empire and the Future of America to Milosz, with whom he worked on translating his poetry and that of Zbigniew Herbert into English whilst opposing US Imperialism, tends to get downplayed in Poland.
There is no automatic nor unconditional reason why Poland should be reflexively pro-American simply because it was opposed to the USSR during the Cold War. The Cold War is over and the return of history means a rerun of history back to that of clashing power blocks, conflicts over resources and more realpolitik than Utopian ideology, though it is the US that blends the two now in a dangerous blend of messianic fanaticism that disregards reality.
Milosz wrote his Captive Mind ( 1951 ) to criticise the manner in which the post-World War Two intelligensia tried to rationalise the imposition of Soviet power after Poland was handed over to the Soviet "sphere of influence" by regarding it a the wave of the future and due to the hatred of the capitalism. Yet there was nothing in it suggesting that US style capitalism was the correct alternative to communism.
What is interesting about Milosz's Captive Mind is that, ironically, it could also apply to those who, as Tony Judt points out in Postwar , believed that the US President in 2001 and 2004 was fighting his wars for their ideals of 'humanitarian intervention' and spreading 'liberal democracy' to benighted and repressed people in Afghanistan and Iraq through 'shock and awe'.
Judt argues this was because some members of the Polish intelligensia like Michnik based their support on the idea of general principles instead of scrutinising the actual facts, such as the fact that "Islamofascism" or "Islamic fundamentalism" is not one seamless totalitarian threat to the West.
There is a distinct similarity between the "Islamofascist" propaganda and the "New Cold War" trope being sold by Edward Lucas and both are mendacious propagandistic tripe.
Now the entry of Poland into war with the USA in Iraq was barely discussed in the Sejm and both right wing parties and the SLD, then in power under Alexander Kwasniewski, entered the war to show "solidarity" though also, as David Ost wrote in 2004 in The Nation, Poland wanted a cut of the lucrative reconstruction contracts and were peeved when they did not get what they wanted.
The rise of a new Captive Mind has become one of the most sinister features of Poland's elites in the last decade. Independent thought and dissent has tended to be repressed in Poland due to the rise of "think tanks" as well as the confusion of the intelligensia in a Europe that no longer listens to what Michnik actually says any more very much.
That sense of impotence led to those like Michnik to support the Iraq War in the uncritical way apologists for the USSR supported the invasion of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968 and reconstitutes what Milosz meant by 'rationalisation' and trying to identify with History just as post-war intellectuals did.
Milosz in The Captive Mind wrote that those supporting the imposition of Communist rule, ignoring the UB repressions and rationalising the existence of the Gulag and the "resettlement East" of Poles from the Eastern borderlands of the old section of Eastern Poland, now in Ukraine and Belarus and Lithuania, as merely "temporary measures" as opposed to a permanent system of totalitarian rule.
Likewise Michnik, who much admired Milosz, has remained silent on the way US power under Bush and continued under Obama has pursued war as a form of "liberation" rather than a last resort and has conducted policies involving torture euphemised as "repetitive administration" and arbitrary transferral by the CIA of "terrorist suspects" in Afghanistan via Poland into Guantanamo Bay.
It is odd that those who admired George Orwell's samizdat editions of 1984 and Animal Farm now no longer remember that Orwell, though anti-totalitarian, remained a democratic socialist and saw the mechanism of power and rationalisation also applied to his criticism of Imperialism, whether applied to the British Empire or the USSR.
What Orwell never dwelt on was the nature of US power in Latin America, which led literary figures and intellectuals like the poet Pablo Neruda from Chile to celebrate the expansion of communism into what was then called "Eastern Europe". Whilst Neruda had no real experience of totalitarianism, what he was against was the USA's belief that Latin America was "it's backyard".
The double standards operated by the USA in it's dirty war against Chile in 1973 and branding left wing social democratic governments and mixed economies in Latin America as "communist" was the template for ill advised meddling in the internal affairs of Latin American states from El Salvador where death squads trained in Fort Benning assassinated Catholic priests like Archbishop Romero in 1980 whilst he was saying Mass.
That was contemporaneous with the rise of Solidarity and its consequent repression by Jaruzelski's regime of Martial Law imposed in 1981, though with far less bloodshed than was visited upon Chile by General Pinochet with the support of Milton Friedman and the "Chicago Boys" where some 20,000 were killed as opposed to the few hundreds in Poland. Which makes neither of them right.
The resentment in Latin America to the USA's destruction of democratically elected governments such as that of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua prove that the USA could , with the USSR and its KGB, act equally as ruthlessly via the CIA as its global superpower opponent and provide the basis for the radicalisation of revolutionary Marxists.
Those wishing to avoid the dangers of totalitarianism such as Michnik merely made generalised statements about torture and totalitarianism whether of the right or left never being justified.
Yet he fails to accept that the USA is a superpower that wishes to dominate the globe in the way advocated not only by US neoconservatives but also Democratic "liberals" like Brzezinski whose policies in Afghanistan have created bloodshed and killing.
It is the double standards operated by the USA and "the West" which tend to lead to reactive extremism and the populism that Michnik sees as a renascent danger across the world. Yet his lack of economic knowledge ensures that he does not understand that in Poland, like in Russia under Yeltsin, that immiseration caused by neoliberal policies is the central catalyst of these trends.
That can be seen in those like Chavez in Venezuela who trades on opposition to neoliberal IMF policies that reduced states like Venezuela and Chile to poverty, higher levels of social inequality and chaos. Chavez has been championed as he has broken the power of the oligarchies who once controlled access to wealth and privilege via control of the political system.
Whether Chavez will use his power responsibly is threatened precisely by the scale of US meddling and fake "People Power" coalitions like the Sumate, funded by the USA directly because there is no responsible democratic opposition. The communism and populism versus capitalism or "market economy " argument is a false dichotomy.
This interference in Latin America dated back a long time before communism existed to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine and the threat of Moscow backed "communism" was often used as a pretext to keep these nations as semi-colonies in such a way that it encouraged extremist revolutionary militant committed to violence that Michnik rejects as a way of bringing in a government which retains liberal features.
Yet in recent year extremely doctrinaire theories of economic radicalism, those of neoliberalism, have been used for illiberal social engineering purposes no less than Communism regarded 'the people' and entire nations as laboratories for experimenting with humans and reducing them to their use value, as the trendy neoliberal term "human resources" indicates.
The model for "reforming" the post-Communist economy in Poland was Jeffrey Sach's who worked as an advisor to Solidarity and had pushed through his reforms in Bolivia in the 1980s with the precondition for 'stability' being austerity measures and price increases that would engineer a depression and reconstruction of the economy on stronger lines later.
Sach's reforms worked neither in Bolivia any more than they applied to Poland an entirely different nation in Central Europe where the civil society activism promoted by Solidarity prevented the way unionists and civil society opponents were dealt with in Bolivia: that is by arresting unionists and opponents of President Paz's regime.
As the strikes in 1992 to 1993 were mounted in revolt against "shock therapy", Paz's regime resorted to undemocratic measures unthinkable in Poland as it had been a union, the intelligensia and the heirs to a democratic and free Poland fought for by the wartime Armi Krajowe who had over thrown a communist regime. None of these facts features in Letters from Freedom.
Yet in Bolivia, those who opposed shock therapy were subjected to severe political repression that is unacceptable and justified, like communism was as in the ex-"Eastern Europe", as a measure that would hurl Bolivia into Utopia. As Professor John Gray, the conservative libertarian has commented Utopianism migrated in the 1980s from the left to the political right.
As with all Utopias, the existence of those who oppose perfectionist creeds and neoliberal "Market Leninism" are considered fiendish communists or realpolitik cynics and not those who are devoted to an open society where all political opposition, whether conservative, liberal or social democratic, or even communists, are tolerated.
The fact that Solidarity elites like Michnik did not subject Sachs's schemes to sceptical analysis nor look at the actual facts of what happened in Bolivia ,which Sachs touted as a model economic miracle for Poland, was a major political failing. In Bolivia, the immediate effects of allowing US corporate power over the national economy was an increase in unemployment from 20 to 30%.
Real wages dropped 40% whilst prices increased and then wages dropped again later by 70% of their previous level. In 1985 the average per capita income of Bolivia was $845. By 1987 it had plummeted to $789. Average income calculations concealed, as they have done in Poland, the growth of vast levels of super rich and an underclass of peasants and unemployed.
In reaction to criticism that "shock therapy did not actually work", Sachs opined "Look, all this gradualist stuff doesn't work. When it goes out of control ( the economy ) you've got to stop it, like a medicine. You've got to take radical steps or the patient is going to die". These metaphors of medicinal and emergency shock doctor measures were later used by Sachs in Poland.
The rewards for Solidarity's prolonged struggle against the communist regime was that the IMF refused to give any aid for a huge debt of $40 billion racked up by the PZPR unless accompanied by the medicine that Sach's prescribed for Poland and placed in power by the Communists and George Soros even before the election victory of 1989.
Jeffrey Sachs promised that he could get the IMF to grant aid given his Bolivian miracle and this promise captivated the minds of Solidarity elites who were desperate to do something about hyperinflation and shortages in the shops: the answer was eliminating price control overnight, slashing subsidies and closing and downsizing the mines, shipyards and factories where Solidarity began.
Sachs's ideas chimed with those of Leszek Balcerowicz whose Plan in January 1990 implemented "shock therapy" which, in accordance with Sach's views, was done in a feverish atmosphere of euphoria at having defeated communism and the expectation life would at least get better instead of worse, as it did in the first few years of Poland's "shock therapy".
As Naomi Klein states in her radical work The Shock Doctrine ,
"In Sach's talk of Bolivia, he failed to mention that in order to push forward the shock therapy program, the government had imposed a state of emergency and, on two separate occasions, kidnapped and interned the union leadership-much as the Communist secret police had snatched and imprisoned Solidarity's leadership under state of emergency not so long before"Due to the conditionality criteria set down by the IMF, that aid of $1 billion would only come if Poland accepted shock therapy, the Solidarity leaders claimed they had no alternative but to follow the revolutionary approach rather than the more gradualist ' social market' approach that Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first PM in a free Poland, had thought a better option.
That went against the whole democratic ethos that Solidarity had been developed upon where the idea was that workers would gain control over co-operative enterprises and a mixed economy between the extremes of US capitalism and Soviet central command state communism would be implemented.
Balcerowicz consciously knew that his belief that there is no alternative, a mantra that has never been challenged as historical and economic orthodoxy in Poland by most mainstream media, "experts" and US trained economists, would only work by deliberately manipulating the Polish public for its own good. Again, this was the way communists thought in postwar war Poland in the 1950s when Milosz wrote The Captive Mind.
As Balcerowicz opined, "extraordinary politics" was a concept where the normal rules of civil society simply do not apply ( that is the "normal politics" of public consultation, discussion and free and open debate ). As with George Soros, 'freedom' and 'openness' is prescribed for everybody else apart from themselves, a caste of experts above the ordinary people.
As with the Communists, the market fundamentalism of Balcerowicz is not one of the 'fundamentalisms' that Michnik dwells on in Letters from Freedom in much detail as his talent was for polemics against communism, totalitarianism, fundamentalism and populism but omitted the economic context that created so much anger and talk of betrayal by ex-Solidarity members.
In 1992, 60% of Poles opposed privatisation for heavy industry and Sachs again used medical analogies that were used by communists who justified amputations of whole parts of society to further progress no matter how much pain it caused the very people without whom Poland would not have been a free nation.
"When a guy comes into an emergency room and his heart's stopped, you just rip open the sternum and you don't worry about the scars they leave...The idea is to get the guy's heart beating again. An you make a bloody mess. But you don't have any choice"Yet the long term impact of the emergency surgery inflicted long term effects on the health of Poland's body politic, in particular the recourse of anti-communist workers to far right populist demagogues that Michnik merely blethers on about as though they were just atavistic remnants from the pre-war Endek regime of Dmowski that were frozen by the era of communism.
Not once has Michnik mentioned the words "shock therapy" or looked in detail at the Balcerowicz Plan and its suitability for Poland. Instead in Letters from Freedom he focuses on a political polemics based on general principles and without reference to the specifics of the way "shock therapy" was imposed on Poland without democratic discussion or debate.
By 1992 shock therapy had led to a 30% decline in industrial production and with "free trade" being stacked in favour of the 'global investment community' rather than domestic producers, cheap imports flowed in, though still unaffordable for Poles with declining incomes and subjected to unemployment reaching 25%, a level maintained in many areas until EU entry in 2003.
World Bank figures in 2006 revealed that Poland still had an unemployment rate of 20%-the highest in the EU. Some 40% of young people were unemployed in 2006, almost two times the average for the rest of the EU. None of that literally figures in any post-communist history of Poland written either by Adam Zamoyski nor Norman Davies.
In his chapter Liberation 1983-1999 in The Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present, Davies emphasised the political triumphs in bringing communism down but had little to say in about the economic situation beyond claiming the 'transition proceeded with far less pain than might have been predicted'.
Davies claims that the IMF shock therapy 'proved a great blessing' and 'worked to the degree that it put hyperinflation under control almost immediately. The new zloty held steady. Productivity began to pick up in the second half of 1991 and was soon enjoying record rates of 4,5, and enentually 6 percent per annum'.
Compared to the dismal economics of the command economy, neoliberal capitalism was always bound to be more successful but the question is whether the social and economic doslocation it caused to actual Polish people was a 'historical inevitability', a curious position taken by those who opposed the technolological and economic determinism of Marxist-Leninism.
Yet Davies's desire to boost Poland's triumph over communism led him to overlook the real immiseration that neoliberalism of the Balcerowicz Plan created in Poland and how that was directly connected to the way populists like PiS and other right wing splinter groups from the Catholic right were able to capitalise on resentment and anger in a way that held Poland up and made politics a sterile pantomime.
The clipped language Davies used to describe shock therapy belies the sense that neoliberal doctrines, taken to their logical absurdity, obfuscated the manner in which Balcerowicz did, in fact, ram through unpopular "reforms" opposed by many within Solidarity and created a political nationalist backlash and poverty that is unrivalled in the EU.
'Central control over all sectors of the economy was abandoned. Privatisation was encouraged at all levels, but first in the financial and industrial sectors. Hyperinflation stopped. Confidence returned. Foreign investment began. International assistance initially from the IMF became possible. Hard times, of course continued'.Whilst true that 50 years of communist mismanagement was not going to be put right overnight, Davies is wrong to suggest that,
"Democracy encourages short memories. Many Poles were tempted to blame all the deficiencies of the present on the mistakes of current politicians. Few looked back with nostalgia to Communism, although several groups of people such as pensioners, peasants and the unemployed complained bitterly of the meagre benefits of the new orderIt was the neoliberal policies of Balcerowicz were responsible for making a bad situation initially worse and only the fact that Poland was full of highly skilled and talented people and the civil society opposition to the Balcerowicz Plan that ensured that Poland was not to end up the economic basket case that Russia became under Yeltsin as a result of the same proscribed regime of shock therapy in an even more top down anti-democratic manner.
Their distress was real enough. But they would have been better advised to take a longer view. Life in the new Poland was far from perfect. But most of the more intractable political, social and economic difficulties had to be attributed not to recent policies but to the preceding decades of Communist mismanagement.
Moreover, there is a contradiction in Davies' logic. The backlash from the populist right and the nastier elements of the Catholic Church, as represented by Radio Maryja, was a direct result of people having been reduced to permanent poverty and looking for a rationalisation for their misfortune. That does not mean anti-semitism was justified but explains why people acted as they did. There was, after all, no alternative politically or economically.
The continued poverty and the World Bank reports of 2006 indicate that if Poles took 'the long view' then the "transition era" could well last more than 17 years. It has continued on after the financial crash of 2008 and the new World Depression that has ensued ( rationalised by neoliberal fanatics as "negative growth", a "downturn" and a "credit crunch".
Moreover, Davies has written nothing since 1999 about the fact that young Poles were so disillusioned with the nation after 14 years of mismanagement and corruption, that over a million voted with their feet to the UK after EU entry in 2003, including highly skilled professionals, so much so that Wroclaw's Mayor set up a Come Home project in London to tempt professionals back.
That is hardly a ringing endorsement for Poland's post-communist "transition" and Polish citizens had every right to demand better from their politicians with the 50 years of communism excuse was wearing thin after 20 years of freedom from Soviet domination and giving vent to the very idea in 2007 of the Kaczynski Twins using lustration laws to scapegoat for communists who made their smooth transition to neoliberal Atlanticists.
What Davies fails to mention is that it was only the abandonment of the shock therapy programme by Solidarity's rank and file that put an end to the Balcerowicz Plan which the economist Joseph Stiglitz in his Globalisation and its Discontents sees as having prevented the economies of ex "Eastern Europe" deteriorating precisely because they was abandoned by 1992-1993.
In Poland, the reason was that Solidarity went on strike in 1992 when there were 6,000 protests against Balcerowicz. 1993 saw 7,500 strikes and by the end of 1993 the plans for the total privatisation of every public asset in accordance with Milton Friedman's idea were abandoned. It was this that led to the saving of jobs, of production plants and the rapid growth of the Polish economy thereafter.
If 'the long view' was taken, the revival of the Polish right wing in PiS reflected the way opposition to the Balcerowicz Plan could take a nasty turn. Kacynski won the 2005 elections by explicitly attacking the rhetoric of the Chicago School as a result of their opponents proposing to "think the unthinkable" and do way with the public pension system and impose a flat tax rate of 15%.
To the extent that the Kaczynski's claimed these neoliberal policies would steal from the poor they were correct but due to their anti-communist fanaticism neoliberalism was seen not as a US project to convert Central European states into new model pupils of IMF orthodoxy but a sinister plot by atheists, homosexuals, Jews, foreigners and commies to traduce Poland. This tedious repetition of rationalisation for failure was a major failure for a democratic Poland.
This is a harsh indictment that after 20 years now a large number of Poles live in destitution and poverty, with the homeless even dropping dead on the street and freezing in January when temperatures plummeted to -20. There are no political parties offering real policy alternatives. Merely the same neoliberalism dressed up in a different PR or "identity politics".
Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind
Adam Michnik, Letters from Freedom
Norman Davies, The Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present
David Ost, The Defeat of Solidarity
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
John Gray, Gray's Anatomy
John Gray, Black Mass Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia
Tony Judt Postwar