Solidarity Movement and its philosophical foundations

At the London symposium, we were very lucky to have a great presentation by Clara Watson, who spoke to us about the Polish Solidarity Movement and its philosophical foundations. Clara’s PowerPoint presentation and paper are free to view and read in the “Resources” section of the webiste. below is a slide from her presentation, and a snippet from her paper.


This paper aims to engage with some of the philosophical literature that is considered to have influenced the spirit of the Polish Solidarity Movement of the 1980s. The discussion will revolve around Pope John-Paul II’s The Acting Person, written whilst he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyła in 1967, and Leszek Kołakowskis 1971 essay, Theses on Hope and Hopelessness.

Although Pope John- Paul II’s nine-day visit to Poland in 1979 is often regarded as one of the major catalysts which galvanised the Solidarity movement, this essay will primarily focus on Wojtyła’s earlier phenomenological account of human action and participation which could be said to have operated as the philosophical kindling for the spiritual revolution which would be ignited in 1979. Wojtyła’s work will be analysed in conjunction with Kołakowski’s secular and practical account which emphasised the need for the Polish people to exert collective pressure on the despotic socialist system, reminding them that the Soviet model was not impenetrable and organised dissidence could limit and weaken the action of the totalitarian state.

Pope John-Paul II and Kołakowskis shared vision of hope, freedom and quest for truth, offered workers the tools for a unique and powerful creed. This synthesis of political dissidence and spiritual revolution worked to forge an indissoluble and resilient spirit present in the strikers of 1980.

Solidarity (Solidarność) was the first independent, self-governing labour union in the Soviet bloc, who used a non-violent technology of resistance. It was founded on 31st August 1980 at the Gdansk shipyard, under the leadership of an electrician, Lech Wałęsa, after mass strikes swept Poland with workers demanding better salaries, political freedom and respect for human rights.  Within a year, Solidarity membership reached 10 million, (nearly 80% of the total workforce), making it the largest trade union in the world. In contrast, membership to the Communist Party in Poland was only 3.5 million.


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