Working Papers

The Origins of Solidarity

Workers, Intellectuals and the Making of An Oppositional Movement

The case of Poland’s Solidarity movement, cited by many as the quintessential expression of a powerful alliance between the working class and the intelligentsia against established authorities, has recently been the subject of a lively controversy. A key issue of contention concerns the relative contribution of intellectuals to the creation in August 1980 of the world’s first independent trade union in a Communist country.

It is a debate that is inextricably intertwined with larger theoretical and political issues; indeed, xrevisionist’1 scholars such as Roman Laba and Lawrence Goodwyn^ have raised anew the classical question posed by Lenin: can the working-class, acting without the assistance of the intelligentsia, attain the levels of consciousness and organization necessary to wage a transformative struggle against those who control the key levers of power?3 Conversely, if — as many analysts have argued — intellectuals did in fact constitute an integral part of a crossclass coalition that produced Solidarity, what forces made this extraordinary alliance between oppositional workers and oppositional intellectuals possible? How, specifically, was it constructed? And what tensions, if any, between workers and intellectuals arose during Solidarity’s formative stages?

This paper will address these questions by examining the specific events leading to the formation of Solidarity. The focus will be on the city where Solidarity was founded, Gdansk, and on the enterprise where the decisive strike began, the Lenin Shipyard. For only by examining the particular setting in which Solidarity was born can one grasp the complex dynamics that led to its formation.