Next week, Solidarity will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Most would accurately describe the Solidarity movement – and those who helped foster it – as the beginning of the end for Soviet communism:
The Solidarity movement highlighted the Church’s potential as an alternative centre of authority in Poland, filling the gap left by the absence of mediating institutions between state and society, and offering stronger integrating bonds than Communist culture and ideology. Workers in strategic industries such as ship-building had been given privileges to ensure their loyalty. To gain their trust and confidence, at a time of hardship and suspicion, the Church had to speak with power and conviction, offering its own networks of mutual support, as well as a voice that could unite citizens of every background and conviction, believers or non-believers. That it succeeded in doing so was a monumental, historic achievement.
“In so far as we can speak of a workers’ revolution, Solidarity was the first workers’ revolution in history,” the former Marxist Leszek Kolakowski wrote from exile in Oxford. “It follows that the first workers’ revolution in history was directed against a socialist state, and has proceeded under the sign of the Cross with the blessing of the Pope. So much for the irresistible laws of history discovered scientifically by Marxists.”
Heh! Darned right.
This is anything is what will make Pope John Paul II one of the most remarkable popes in Church history. I anxiously await a complete publication of his corpus of writings. For many who grew up in the 1980s and for whom the Soviet Union was a vague mention during 1st grade history class and inbetween afternoon cartoons and bedtime, the real legacy of Pope John Paul II’s role in defeating communism lies in his fostering of the Solidarity movement — a great example for any Christian movement seeking change.
Poland today is facing its difficulties to be sure. Even so, Poland’s unique Catholicity and free society is a marvel of the post-Soviet era, especially in the eyes of modernist Westerners who would see Catholic social teaching as the polar opposite of free societies, even as secular Europe slides deeper and deeper into the socialism it once fought.
Solidarity remains, in short, the founding myth of the new Poland – an often uncomfortable, inconvenient reminder of how Poles saw themselves 25 years ago and how they see themselves today, and of what the generation of 1980 set out to create, a generation that can truly say it did something not just for itself. It is, as the Polityka weekly commented last week, the ultimate mirror for the present day. “Every nation needs attractive tales about itself, and this is ours,” Polityka noted in its special issue. “This was a time when, in the eyes of the world, we were courageous, united and proud, when we built our own social ideals, regardless of geopolitics, the intrigues of power, clashes of interest; the fact that, by chipping at an authoritarian system, we contributed to its ultimate collapse, is an important element of the Polish identity.”
Quite a statement, and quite a heritage to pass on to those struggling against socialism and authoritarianism no matter where it lies.