The Legacy of Polish Solidarity

Social Activism, Regime Collapse, and Building of a New Society

by Andrzej Rychard (Volume editor) Gabriel Motzkin (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 214 Pages


Polish Solidarity was a phenomenon combining a trade union, a social movement and general ideas of freedom and solidarity. Led by Lech Walesa it contributed greatly to the evolution of the old system and to its final collapse in 1989, followed then by the end of the communist regimes in all of Central Europe. Today we celebrate the 25th anniversary of these peaceful revolutions. What is left of Solidarity? What is still important? How did it evolve and how did it contribute to the collapse of the old system, and to the building of the new? These are the questions the authors, leading specialists on social movements, institutions, structures and social change address in this book.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Solidarity and Patterns of Contentious Politics in the 2000s in Europe
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical background
  • Cross-national patterns
  • (i) Data and variables
  • (ii) Differences in contentious politics in Europe
  • (iii) Effect of social class
  • (iv) Country-level effects
  • Social composition of the Solidarity union
  • Discussion
  • Bibliography
  • The Many Lives and Deaths of the Solidarity Movement
  • The first life – Solidarity as a total social movement
  • The second life – Solidarity as an underground citizens’ movement
  • The third life – Solidarity as a political force which brings about the end of communism
  • The fourth life: Solidarity – the betrayed trade union
  • The fifth life – Solidarity as an independent political force
  • The sixth life – Solidarity as a weakening trade union
  • Bibliography
  • The Solidarity Movement – Hard Work and Hopes for Democracy
  • List of References
  • The Paradox of Solidarity’s Legacy: Contested Values in Poland’s Transitional Politics
  • Introduction
  • Poland’s Legacy and Transformative Politics
  • The Legacy of Real Socialism
  • The Legacy of Political Opposition in Poland
  • The Transformative Program
  • The “Return to Europe”
  • The Legacy as Political Capital
  • The Nature of the Nation
  • Social and Culture Issues
  • Decommunization
  • Sovereign Poland
  • Material Poland
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Solidarity: Its Evolution and Legacy. How did it happen that a populist movement introduced the market economy and democracy?
  • In what sense was Solidarity a populist movement?
  • The evolutionary nature of Solidarity
  • The evolution and legacy of Solidarity
  • References
  • Fulfilled Promises and Unexpected Results: Solidarity’s double-edged legacy. How a social movement fighting for democracy helped to build liberal market capitalism
  • Introduction
  • Basic assumptions
  • The Political dimension
  • The initial phases of the Polish transformation
  • The Economic dimension
  • “Solidarity” and the question of social passivity and distrust
  • The Cultural dimension
  • Modernization: promise and ideology versus practical experience
  • References
  • East European Civil Societies in the 90’s: A Legacy of Solidarity or Completely Different Historical Paths?
  • Introduction
  • I. Theoretical foundations. Theories and functions of civil society
  • II. Some explanations regarding the lack of civil society in Eastern Europe
  • 1. Before and after 1989. About certain legacies
  • Rejection of the past
  • The third sector
  • 2. Which kind of communist societies?
  • The totalitarianism approach
  • The non political societies
  • III. Which kind of Europeanization?
  • Regionalization policy
  • The Euroregions
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Solidarity’s Afterlife: Amidst Forgetting and Bickering
  • Mnemonic reconciliation and the democratic consolidation
  • Polish troubles with mnemonic reconciliation
  • Legacies of the “first” Solidarity (August 1980–December 1981)
  • Potential legacies of the underground Solidarity and the Round Table (December 1981–June 1989)
  • The politics of cultural choices
  • Bibliography
  • The Velvet and the Classical Revolutions – A Comparative Analysis in the Framework of the Dynamics of Modernity
  • I
  • II
  • III
  • IV
  • V
  • VI
  • VII
  • References

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Twenty-five years ago there was a series of velvet revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe. These represented the final stage of the collapse of the communist system in this part of Europe. They began with the Round Table talks between rulers and opposition in Poland, and gathered pace thereafter. Today, the majority of these countries have the fundamental market-oriented and democratic changes behind them and a decided majority of these countries are members of NATO and the European Union.

The phenomenon of the practically bloodless collapse of the communist system in this part of Europe is one of civilization’s great advances, as are the democratic success and market transformation of these countries. Yet the fears at the onset of the changes were strong and well founded. Particularly feared were potential social reactions in the form of protest in the face of difficult market reforms. It was feared that after gaining democratic instruments, the post-communist societies would use them to reject the market. This was one of the dangers of simultaneous transformation in the political and economic spheres. The risk of a rejection of this kind was particularly strong in countries suffering very poor economic situations with a strong tradition of social protest. Poland was just such a country. Nevertheless, mass rejection of the market economy by society did not come about either in Poland or in the other countries. In order to explain this it is necessary to look at the deeper historical and structural factors.

This book is an attempt at such an explanation while focusing on one country – Poland. It refers to the experience and the heritage of the Polish Solidarity movement which, after it was established in 1980 under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa, represented the first breach in the institutional structure of communism. Solidarity grew to be an oasis of independence and civic participation. Although the introduction of martial law interrupted its official activities for more than a year, illegal activity and above all the memory and experience of Solidarity nevertheless allowed, almost a decade later in 1989, for democratic and market transformations to be developed on Solidarity’s foundations. This book, a collection of texts from leading Polish and foreign sociologists and political scientists, focuses on displaying the multilayered and evolutionary nature of Solidarity. These characteristics are necessary for understanding apparently paradoxical ← 9 | 10 → phenomena, such as, for example, how a mainly workers’ trade union introduced and supported market transformations.

In the first part of the book the authors view Solidarity as a social movement. Henryk Domański (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences) analyses the Solidarity social protest movement in a comparative perspective. Empirical data point to the existence of interesting structural differences between the participants of the Solidarity protests and those of other countries’ protests. In Poland, the over-representation of workers is striking. Marcin Frybes (CADIS-EHESS, Paris) looks in turn at Solidarity from the perspective of its changing character. He distinguishes as many as six variants or “lives” of this movement characteristic for different periods (among others, a movement that was legal, one that was underground, one linked to systemic change and a movement of betrayed trade union ideals). Ireneusz Krzemiński (Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw) draws attention in his analysis to democratic participation as a characteristic of the Solidarity movement. He proposes the thesis that the delegalization and suppression of the legal Solidarity movement by the communist authorities constituted one of the causes of the collapse of the communist system through its delegitimization of the system.

The second part of the book focuses on the role of Solidarity in political change. Jack Bielasiak (Indiana University, Bloomington) analyses the particular role of values against the background of the role of interests in Polish politics. He analyses the significance of Solidarity in this respect and the function of values in building a new political system. In the author’s view, one paradox is the fact that the neoliberal agenda strengthened the role of values and not solely that of interests. Andrzej Rychard (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences) attempts to answer the question of how it was possible that a predominantly workers’ trade union movement promoted market and democratic transformation. He notes the particular character of the Solidarity movement, which included from its beginning both populist as well as modernizing elements. Marek Ziółkowski (Institute of Sociology, Adam Mickiewicz University) focuses in his text on an analysis of the role of extra-political factors in the construction of democracy. He shows the difficulties that joining this process caused for the trade union.

The third and final part of the book is dedicated to the experience of Solidarity against the general background of peaceful European revolutions. Francois Bafoil (CNRS, CERI/Sciences Po, Paris) attempts to explain the phenomenon of Solidarity against the background of declining civic engagement in post-communist countries. He shows, the significance of other forms of civic participation, such as those of a local character. Jan Kubik (Rutgers University) analyses the importance ← 10 | 11 → of memory in the process of the consolidation of democracy. He answers in a systematic way the question of what we remember from the Solidarity experience, and documents the multi-dimensional character of the process of remembering. Our volume concludes with a text by Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute). He analyses the experience of the velvet revolutions in the light of other classical models of revolution. He notes the similarities and differences between them (for example, the relative lack of utopian elements in the velvet revolutions).

This volume is the outcome of a conference organized in Jerusalem in 2009 jointly by the Graduate School for Social Research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. Its authors were all participants in the conference. As it is already a few years since this conference took place, almost all the authors have presented new or amended texts for publication. Our thanks go to all the institutions that contributed to the success of the conference and to this publication. Our special thanks go to Dr. John Fells, director of the Graduate School for Social Research.

Our volume is dedicated to the memory of Shmuel N. Eisenstadt.

Andrzej Rychard

Gabriel Motzkin


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Henryk Domański

Solidarity and patterns of contentious politics in the 2000s in Europe


In democratic systems social protests can serve to establish linkages of responsiveness between citizens and authorities, though they do not always do so. Conversely, what happened in Poland in the 1980s can be construed as a confrontation between the entrenched elites of power and an emerging civil society whose organizational embodiment was Solidarity. My concern is to determine to what extent the Solidarity movement in Poland of the 1980s resembled “modern” (i.e., contemporary) protests, referred to as the contentious politics that we know from empirical research. Specifically, I am going to confront some features of the Solidarity movement – as it displays in analyses of the survey data – with protests taking place in the 2000s in other European countries.

My analysis will focus on the recruitment base – that is, on the social underpinnings of the participants of both the Solidarity movement and contemporary protests. Although protest actions can be organized by various social categories, some are more prone to engage in them. The question then arises: which of the pre-1989 social and political cleavages in communist Poland regarding socio-occupational factors, educational level, age, or place of residence were most pronounced in the Solidarity union? Were protestors drawn mostly from the intelligentsia or from the working class? From the elderly or from young people? From women or men? The same questions can be addressed to modern social protests. I will address the question of where the participants of both Solidarity and today’s protests come from – from which socio-occupational strata, age categories and so forth.

Using the recruitment base as a referential frame, I will show that although the Solidarity union was from the very beginning a nation-wide organization, it was marked by overrepresentation of the working class, specifically skilled workers. This pattern persisted until the end of the 1980s. In contradiction to this, participants of contentious politics in contemporary European countries come from the middle classes. They are also more firmly rooted in the broadly understood social structure, as defined in terms of age, and size of place of residence. In conclusion, I will reflect on what such differences in the social composition of protests might mean for the stability of political systems. ← 13 | 14 →

In doing so I will refer to data coming from social surveys carried out in Poland in the 1980s and international surveys carried out in the 2000s in European societies. Systematic cross-national evidence about contentious politics and its social preconditions is in short supply. Certainly, analyses made on such quantitative data can deliver only a crude comparative framework of 1980s Solidarity and today’s contentious politics. In any event, I hope that my analysis of such a peculiar case (as that of Solidarity) may broaden our perspective and help to identify more universal rules in this area.

Theoretical background


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
Solidarnosc Gewerkschaft Kommnunismus Lech Walesa
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 214 pp., 12 tables, 2 graphs

Biographical notes

Andrzej Rychard (Volume editor) Gabriel Motzkin (Volume editor)

Andrzej Rychard, is a sociologist, Full Professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences and Director of the the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. His main areas of research are sociology of political and economic institutions and post-communist transformation. Gabriel Motzkin is the Director of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and an emeritus Professor of the Hebrew University. He held the Ahad Ha’am Chair in Philosophy, and was also a member of the Departments of History and German Literature. He served as the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Director of the Franz Rosenzweig Center for German-Jewish Literature and Cultural History. He has also been a Fellow at the Siemens Foundation, the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge, the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, the Einstein Forum, the Wiener Institute at Tel Aviv University, the Max-Planck-Institute for History, the Wissenschaftskolleg (Berlin), and the Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung (Bielefeld).


Title: The Legacy of Polish Solidarity
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216 pages