In the last year the world has been electrified as one Soviet bloc government after another has collapsed. The Berlin Wall has been dismantled and Germany reunited, Vaclav Havel went from the prisons to the presidency of Czechoslovakia, and the Hungarian people have dismantled the one-party state. But ten full years before any of these tumultuous events came the first successful challenge to the Leninist state--the shipworker's strike which began in Gdansk, and which led to the formation of the first free and independent trade union in the communist world, Solidarnosc.
Now, in Breaking the Barrier, Lawrence Goodwyn provides a fascinating history of the Solidarity movement, tracing thirty-five years of working class activism and state repression that preceded and defined the climactic struggle of 1980 on the Baltic coast of Poland. Goodwyn demonstrates the extent to which Solidarnosc grew out of the workers themselves, not out of intellectual theories. He describes the strikes in 1956, 1970, and 1976, and shows how they provided workers with the knowledge to create Solidarnosc. Indeed in 1980, when they formulated and bargained for twenty-one demands which shocked even sympathetic observers, the workers proved themselves far better political strategists than the elite intellectuals of the "democratic opposition" who came to advise them. Moreover, Goodwyn does not simply recount these dramatic events. In his gripping narrative, the movement comes alive: we see Lech Walesa standing up to the powers of a physically and politically intimidating bureaucracy; we watch the difficult emergence of an alliance between the workers and Warsaw intellectuals, as the strikers adamantly refuse to compromise their demand for free unions, and we find touching portraits of the martyred priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, and the dissident, Adam Michnik.
In the epilogue, Goodwyn offers a provocative critique of Poland and Eastern Europe today, in which he defines the distance still to be traversed to fulfill the democratic legacy of the early years of Solidarnosc. Based on personal interviews with Polish workers and intellectuals, as well as extensive historical research, this vivid interpretation of collective heroism and government corruption will interest anyone who has been amazed by the democratic revolutions in the East and who wants to know the real story of how it all began.show more