Kirkus Star


Email this review


To Solidarity-watcher Lawrence Weschler (below), Polish sociologist Staniszkis is ""the first revisionist historian of Solidarity."" She earns the distinction for this study, already published in French, which was written on the eve of the imposition of martial law in December 1981. Staniszkis was at the union/government negotiations, in the Gdansk shipyards in August 1980, when Solidarity was officially recognized. From being an advisor to the movement, she became its critic. Though the going is heavy, weighted down by a sociological dialect of levels, structures, and other schemata, persistent readers are rewarded with an insightful argument. To Staniszkis, Solidarity started to go wrong at those very shipyard meetings--in officially agreeing to the ""leading role"" of the Communist Party. Staniszkis dissented at the time from what she viewed as an accommodation between Solidarity's leadership and the government. Solidarity, she maintains, shifted from a protest-outlook to a policy of ""status politics,"" whereby the leadership wanted government recognition and acceptance. A steady drift toward symbolic politics, traditional among Polish intellectuals, also marked a shift away from concrete worker demands. (Staniszkis' analysis is buttressed by a discussion of ""semantic competence,"" pertinently demonstrating that abstraction and symbol manipulation are characteristic of middle- and upper-class linguistic usage.) Over time, the Solidarity leaders were drawn into the status and symbol game, with dire consequences. For example, local and regional party officials--themselves critical of the national party leadership, and therefore informal allies of Solidarity--were alienated when Solidarity turned its symbolic attacks on them, as a result of the increasing accommodation with the national government. Staniszkis is less alone in her analysis of the March 1981 agreement between Walesa, spurred on by his ""expert"" advisors (and against the principle of internal democracy), and the government, heading off a general strike. From then on, the substitution of negotiations for action led to rank-and-file passivity and the hegemony of the status-oriented negotiators, bringing to fruition the process that had begun in Gdansk. Meanwhile, we see Polish political development moving from totalitarian to authoritarian/bureaucratic rule during the 1970s, making Solidarity and the 1980 crisis possible. Ash (above) and Weschler, along with Neal Ascherson before, have all had to take Staniszkis into account, and now the rest of us can as well. Analytic rather than narrative and not for beginners, but deservedly influential.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1984
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press