|This edited volume attempts to explain the characteristic position of permanent crisis (political, economic, and cultural) of state socialism in Poland. In a sense one could argue that one of the main stories in this book is that of the impossibility of party-rule to legitimize itself, despite valiant attempts both from W. Gomulka and E. Gierek. The phenomenon of the Solidarity movement ultimately brings forth the main paradox: a successfully legitimate political alternative that devoids any claims of representativeness form the part of the regime, but which initially fails to solve the crisis-stricken situation of Poland.
In order to provide explanation, the authors look at the political traditions of Poland. A. Walicki argues that the origin of ambivalence is the “gentry democracy” of pre-modern Poland. It meant participation and patriotism, but it also led to the impossibility of developing a constitutional tradition. It fueled the struggle for the nation-state, but upon it (messianic) romantic nationalism was created. This led to a “social vacuum” (S. Nowak) determined by a gap between affiliation to primary groups (e.g., family) and ‘fealty’ to an abstract notion of the nation, with no mediating forms of civic aggregation. The alternative was R. Dmowski’s “political realism” (defining the nation in purely political terms), which was adopted by Gomulka allowing the regime a period of autonomy toward the USSR and partial legitimacy and national recognition at home. However, many of the authors stress the failure of “bureaucratizing the new intelligentsia” (the elites of state socialism), while also permitting the Catholic Church to become a mediator of party-society interactions. This, along with economic failure, fueled the resurgence of an abstract moral conception of the nation that made it impossible for the regime to succeed in making a synthesis of national and Marxist-Leninist values. Ultimately, the clamp down on Solidarity destroyed the ideological claims and political legitimacy of the party-state
Most of the articles were written before the “roundtable talks” that brought about the democratization of Poland. The authors use the coinage of “the defeat of Solidarity” in describing the 1980-1981 events. And their typology of paradoxes relies particularly on the impossibility of consensus rooted in the lack of a middle-way between the romantic and realist identitarian traditions. The developments 1989 and 1990 showed the accomplishment of such a transformation. Nevertheless the book is important for its genealogy of national-political representations that were at the core of state-crisis in Poland.