Early evening, on the Saturday of 12 December 1981, I walked across my local park in Warsaw to meet up with a new friend Iza to see the film ‘Hair’ which had been screened in Poland since 1980.
It was cold and it was starting to snow. We were both eighteen, both in the last year of secondary school. Over two hours later, after an exhilarating experience of unforgettable music, themes of resistance to the Vietnam war, issues of racial justice, peace, love and youth and the spirit of freedom we left the cinema to a still night, by now covered by over a foot of snow.
We walked slowly through the park, talking excitingly about the film, relishing the spirit of freedom, fresh snow was creaking under our winter boots, the trees and bushes now bore heavy glittery load. Iza and I planned to meet up soon again. A magical quiet Saturday night in a country gripped by an economic disaster and political turmoil.
Like many of my friends I woke up on that fateful Sunday morning disappointed that my favourite satirical radio programme (60 Minutes per Hour) was not on. In fact, nothing, as I remember was on the radio except sombre classical music.
The same was pumped from one of only two TV channels, followed by an even more sombre prime minister General Jaruzelski in his military uniform reading out his announcement of the imposition of martial law. In Polish, the phrase is ‘stan wojenny’, which translates as state of war. That sounded serious. A war. Against whom?
Fifteen months of Solidarity
The previous fifteen months in Poland had been extraordinary and, as it later turned out, highly significant for the process of the disintegration of the Soviet empire.
In early August 1980 a series of occupational strikes were triggered by a combination of rising costs of living, deteriorating economic situation, harsh working conditions, local political issues, and a general frustration of workers in the whole of the shipyard industry and in other industrial centres in Poland.
On 31st August 1980 after days of protracted negotiations, an agreement had been reached between the strike committee representing 700 workplaces and the Polish government in which significant economic and political concessions were granted.
Among them the right for employees to belong to a free (independent of the ruling party) trade union.
The Solidarity trade union was born. Within a few months the new Solidarity trade union had 10 million members in the country of 35 million citizens.
The period following the legalisation of the first independent trade union in the communist block was an unprecedented experience of democratisation behind the ‘Iron Curtain’.
Liberalisation in all spheres of social and cultural life was radical. Whilst censorship did not disappear altogether it now became visible, and editors had to indicate places in articles which had been censored.
In all areas of culture and art, openness was visible. Underground publishing was thriving with more samizdat titles on the clandestine market than before. International travel was liberalised, and thousands of passports were issued to people who applied to go abroad.
Tens of thousands of Poles travelled to western Europe, USA, Australia, Israel, many intending to emigrate, others for temporary work.
Meanwhile Poland continued to be affected badly by a deep economic crisis of the command economy crippled by decades of inefficiency, and, since the 1970s, additionally by a massive foreign debt, the interest alone, impossible to service.
There were shortages of practically everything and rationing for many everyday foodstuffs, such as meat, flour, rice, butter, chocolate, sugar, cigarettes, alcohol and petrol. Even so, shops were empty and as soon as deliveries brought any goods, long queues would form stretching outside.
Life for families, particularly for those with young children was tough.
Solidarity was a focal point for frequent eruptions of local strikes over working conditions as well as the ongoing attempts by the government to limit and thwart the activities of the emerging unions and civil society.
Even though the period was peppered by strikes, conflicts with the authorities, at times quite brutal, and ongoing repressions directed at union activists, it was also a time of intense mobilisation of working-class and other political activism. It resulted in a well-organised union becoming a legitimate political actor recognised, albeit reluctantly, by the state socialist authorities.
In a system based on the principle of the leading role of communist party representing the whole society, the idea that there are interests outside of the party undermines the one-party system.
The concession to having a large organisation outside of the communist party rule, representing the interests of the working people, was a challenge to the state socialist system as a whole.
Unknown to anyone except the small inner circle near the top of the Party, the communist authorities began preparations for the introduction of martial law as early as October 1980, barely weeks after the signing of the Gdansk accords.
Whilst on 10 November 1980 the newly formed Solidarity Trade Union had its constitution registered with the High Court, on 12 November, Prime Minister Jaruzelski revealed legal instruments for martial law to the communist Party Committee.
Soon after that, the Soviet Union presented its plans for a military ‘exercise’ named ‘Soyuz 81’ inside the Polish borders to begin on 8 December 1980.
Just before this, General Jaruzelski presented the Soviet side with his own plans for the quashing of Solidarity and other growing political opposition. The Polish government told Brezhnev, the then First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party that an open Soviet military intervention would trigger a violent national uprising.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, security advisor to President Carter added his warning to Brezhnev, that such a military intervention would meet with a strong US response.
The later official narrative from the Polish communist authorities claimed that General Jaruzelski saved Poland from a Soviet intervention.
All the planning to dismantle the fledgling structures of civil liberties and democracy was conducted behind the scenes and invisible to anyone in Solidarity, to other political dissidents, or to society as a whole. The fifteen months of relative freedoms were, years later, described controversially as a carnival; it was undoubtedly, a period of optimism for millions of ordinary citizens, and formative for the future pollical class.
‘The war’, proclaimed by General Jaruzelski on 13 December 1981, was intended to dismantle the emerging structures of civil society and the growing political opposition. It was a war against democratisation, the loosening of the grip of the iron structures of authoritarian communism over the biggest (in population terms) communist country in Europe after the Soviet Union.
From the point of view of the system, it was necessary to prevent the disintegration of the rest of the entire communist system.
So, on that memorable cold December Sunday morning millions of Poles woke up to find out that the telephone network was dead, and TV and Radio only broadcasting the General’s speech followed by the music of Chopin, considered by the communist authorities as suitably patriotic.
All but a handful of newspapers stopped publishing. Schools and universities were temporarily closed. Travel – both international and national beyond one’s local area was forbidden without special passes. Theatres were closed. Curfew was introduced. The only social institutions that remained open were churches.
In other words, Lockdown ‘81.
Soon everyone learnt that the previous night, around midnight, thousands of Solidarity and opposition activists had been arrested and taken from home and interned in unknown locations.
Four weeks later, when the phone lines were restored, a recorded voice warned each caller that their conversation was being monitored. Mail, when allowed again, was also censored and some letters arrived open in plastic bags.
Outside, young, conscripted soldiers were patrolling the streets, many standing around iron bins with burning coals trying to keep themselves warm, tanks and other military vehicles were deployed to cities. Special militarised militia (ZOMO) were visible everywhere.
The official narrative maintained that the Military Committee of National Salvation (acronym WRON – renamed by Poles as wrona – a crow) was formed to save the People’s Poland from sliding into dangerous anarchy, and from the deepening social and economic chaos, and that martial law was introduced to put an end to months of such ongoing irresponsible chaos. Now, the kind, grown up, strict but fatherly Military Committee led by General Jaruzelski would save the nation from itself.
The extent to which martial law did in fact save Poland from the Soviet invasion is today’s disputed by historians. Jaruzelski could have been mistaken about the reality of the threat or he could have used the threat to take power back from the unions.
Within two days of the start of martial law Solidarity led strikes began in several major industrial centres met with violent clashes with armed militia. In several places the militia opened fire at the striking workers.
Nine miners were shot dead in the ‘Wujek’ coal mine in the Silesia region. All but two strikes were crushed in days, with remaining two mines lasting till after Christmas.
Additionally, there were mass street protests on 16th and 17th December in Gdansk and Krakow during which militia used force and opened live fire to attack the protestors. Many were injured and one person died.
None of those protests were reported by the then operating TV news or the newspapers. People could only learn about the events through word of mouth, clandestine publications and principally, the two main foreign radio stations broadcasting in Polish on short wave: BBC World Service and Radio Free Europe.
The two latter were both jammed vigorously with relentless and highly irritating rhythmic intrusion by the Polish authorities and listening to them, especially during martial law, required much determination and focus.
My mother, an avid listener to Radio Free Europe wound a wire around the telescopic ariel of the radio set and attached it to the radiator. No one was allowed to move the radio from its specific position or come near it when she was listening as the fragile signal could easily be affected.
With millions of Poles living abroad yet suddenly unable to telephone or send letters to their families back in Poland, Radio Free Europe ran a kind of Christmas messaging service in December 1981. Christmas and New Year wishes and other messages were sent by the Poles abroad to the RFE offices and were then read out on the radio.
As a result of martial law, and the closing down of the new periodical ‘Mazowsze Weekly’ where she worked, my mother lost her job and much hope for the future. In fact, the very first edition of the ‘Mazowsze Weekly’ (a precursor to today’s ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’) was closed on the evening of 12 December but it was never printed. On 13 December the first editor of the publication committed suicide.
For my mother, as someone from the generation touched by the horrors of WW2, the terrors of Stalinism in her youth, and who invested her own personal dreams in the potential democratisation of the system, the assertion of totalitarian control was a painful personal blow.
She threw herself into making homemade copies of the ‘bibula’, the underground news bulletins and sending them on for distribution. She kept a stock of samizdat literature and newspapers in her bed storage drawer, between a duvet and a stash of sugar.
Around 10 thousand people in total were interned and later arrested. Many actors boycotted TV in protest against martial law, and many journalists resigned or lost their jobs.
Back to school
In the new year, when back at school a small group of us started to organise silent protests in our school.
As I remember we might have copied idea from another secondary school in Warsaw. The plan was for as many students as possible to come to school wearing black, the colour of mourning, on the 16th of the month to commemorate the death of the miners killed in December.
Then, during the long, 20-minute recess, to sit down in the main school corridor and stay silent. A simple organised protest that could not be challenged by the school.
To get students to take part we needed to produce leaflets and distribute them. Not only was that pre-computer age, but under state socialism no one had free access to photocopiers and none of us had access to an underground printing shop.
I cannot remember how we made leaflets now. We had a (manual of course) typewriter at home but even with carbon paper copies that would have been an impossible undertaking. Perhaps we made them by hand or perhaps one of our friends used a parent’s access to a work photocopier.
Still, we did make leaflets and somehow, we did get about 200 plus students to sit down in silence. I remember in the middle of that silence two teachers stood towering over the youngsters saying, ‘get up, get up!’.
But no one moved.
Seeing our teachers powerless was a profound experience.
Later that spring, my friend Luke, from a year below, held a batch of leaflets calling for another silent protest and threw them up in the air on the steps at the end of the school day. Small pieces of paper floated down around our heads and were picked up by students.
The school janitor pounced on my friend and led him to the office of the school head. Why Luke did not refuse to go and just disappear out of the school gate seems strange today but, in those days, we still lived in a culture of deference to adults. Or perhaps he just froze…
The headteacher rang the militia, and our friend was arrested at school, handcuffed, and taken away. He was held overnight in a cell and was charged with anti-state activities but allowed to go home.
Meanwhile another friend and I were recruited by a resistance network. It was run by people in their twenties, university students and the network had strict organisational system whereby we, the youngest members, only knew one person above us in the structure, giving us tasks.
The jobs we were given involved transporting either leaflets from printing shops to a distribution place or, more challenging, moving sections of dismantled printing press from one part of the city to another. Large rucksacks were quite fashionable in Polish cities then, so the sight of two young people with heavy backpacks on public transport was not that unusual, yet we had some difficulties with the sound of clunky metal produced when we accidentally brushed against the bus railings.
Transporting the printing press was particularly risky. Getting caught with illegal printing machinery would be a certain prison sentence. But we were young and we were not afraid.
It did not occur to us to ask about the origin of the machine. The equipment was important for our side and that was all that mattered. It’s only years later I learnt that our side, was indeed supported financially by the US, and not just by other Western trade unions.
Would knowing that have made any difference to us then?
Of course not. Knowing that the US supporting the Solidarity resistance was part of the two Empires’ own battleground would not have made the Soviet Empire and its grip on Poland any more palatable.
Luke’s court case was in May. A small group of us went to support him. Just outside the courtroom I bumped into my school headteacher. I was afraid she might recognise me when, the following week she would be in my matriculation oral exam panel. We were not allowed in the courtroom. Luckily, the charges against Luke were dropped. The next day, I had a radical hairstyle change to avoid being recognised by the school head during the exams.
Accepting the new normal
During martial law, life returned to a kind of normal. People got used, rather quickly, to new restrictions and the loss of freedoms they had previously enjoyed. Government anti-Solidarity propaganda blaming the economic problems on the strikes and the union’s demands for power-sharing before December 1981 and afterwards helped to ensure a growing support for the official narrative of ending ‘the anarchy’ of the Solidarity period.
Whilst a group of underground opposition activists continued to resist, the majority of the population complied and adjusted to the new conditions. Life was hard, getting daily food, everyday stuff, getting petrol and just getting by was hard enough. Active engagement in fighting the system when the risks were so high was only possible by some.
But how was it possible that most of the population did not in fact resist?
Did not the same majority – 10 million working adults in the 35 million population, join the new union, thus voting with their feet for the changes in Poland?
How was it possible to just accept, so quickly, this new regime with invigorated propaganda and more restrictions?
This question has become relevant today, in 2021, again, as we observe the silence of medical professional groups who by virtue of working in healthcare settings must know the extent of the wrongdoing happening around them.
Why are they not speaking out?
Why are the police around the world complying with the orders to repress populations in the name of their wellbeing?
Why are scientific communities going along with what they must see as bad science?
Of most of the politicians’ conscience, I am not asking anymore. They appear to have lost theirs before they entered their positions of power.
The current fascinating insights from Mattias Desmet into the mass formation drawn on Gustave Le Bon’s ideas of how the crowd impacts an individual personality, show the process of, what I call recruitment into the totalitarian system, and Desmet calls ‘hallucination’ – in which a population of previously isolated individuals finds a resolution to their free-floating anxiety in a sense of belonging in a new community of mass formation.
Desmet suggests that the true believers in the narrative are less than 30% of the population, the majority are ‘bystanders’ and a small minority become the resistance.
His analysis shows how the mass formation occurs within the 20-30%, but it is important to acknowledge that the process of recruitment involves mobilisation through shock and fear, in this case, of Covid 19.
Those who have succumbed to the propaganda are those who are fearful for their own and their loved one’s health and who do not or cannot question the official narrative. The fear element is crucial and dominant in the process.
But the passive, indifferent acceptance of an authoritarian reality does not need active engagement with the dogma. It just needs people going along with what seems ‘inevitable’, no matter how inconvenient, or despite having to overcome personal doubts.
Writing in 1975, the Czech dissident playwright who after the fall of communism became the country’s President, asked:
Why are people in fact behaving in the way they do? Why do they do all do these things that, taken together, form the impressive image of a totally united society giving total support to its government? For any unprejudiced observer, the answer is, self-evident: they are driven to it by fear.
For fear of losing his job, the schoolteacher teaches things he does not believe; fearing for this future, the pupil repeats them after him; for fear of not being allowed to continue his studies, the young man joins the Youth League and participates in whatever of its activities are necessary; fear that, under the monstrous system of political credits, his son or daughter will not acquire the necessary total of points for enrolment at a school leads the father to take on all manner of responsibilities and ‘voluntarily’ to do everything required. […]
Fear of being prevented from continuing their work leads many scientists and artists to give allegiance to ideas they do not in fact accept, to write things they do not agree with or know to be false, to join official organisation or to take part in work of whose value they have the lowest opinion, or to distort and mutilate their own works – Vaclav Havel, 1975 in ‘Letter to Dr Gustav Husak’
The active and indeed banal participation in a post-totalitarian society rests on the system of ‘existential pressure, embracing totally the whole of society and every individual’. The post-totalitarian system of power is like:
the hideous spider whose invisible web runs right through the whole of society; this is the point at infinity where all the lines of fear ultimately intersect; this is the final and irrefutable proof that no citizen can hope to challenge the power of the state. […] There is no need at all for a man actually to be interrogated, charged, brought to trial or sentenced. For his superiors are also ensnared in the same web; and at every level where his fate is decided, there are people collaborating of forced to collaborate with the state police. Thus, the very fact that the state police are in a position to intervene at any time in a man’s life, without his having any chance of resisting, suffices to rob his life of some of its naturalness and authenticity and to turn it into a kind of endless dissimulation. – Vaclav Havel
In the above citations, Havel shows how the self-disciplining citizen, employee and a parent keeps him/herself in check in the anonymous system of power of the post-totalitarian society.
The fear is mainly of a loss of one’s position: material and social. ‘Everyone has something to lose and so everyone has reasons to be afraid’, he writes in 1975.
Back in 1982 in Poland, the introduction of martial law after fifteen months of liberalisation and a clawing back some of those freedoms by the authoritarian system seemed like a return to totalitarianism. Indeed, as David Ost observed of the state socialist system in Poland in 1990, ‘The Party continually swings between a totalitarian tendency and a reform tendency’ (David Ost, 1990 in Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics).
For Poles, reconciling themselves to the new bleak normal, it seemed like the regime would last forever and that Eastern Europe would remain behind the Iron Curtain for the rest of their lives.
Thus whilst most of the population seemed to adjust to the new political conditions without protesting, their focus turned to navigating deteriorating living conditions. There were energy shortages due to Soviet Union cutting its gas and oil deliveries and the Polish economy continued to struggle.
In such dire conditions people turned to alternatives and parallel society structures.
Managing such conditions required not just money but also social capital in the form of networks of reciprocity. In effect, getting things done, having decent food on the table, being able to buy a washing machine, spare parts for the car or a get a visit to a doctor all required having ‘znajomosci’, having contacts.
Buying fresh foods such as eggs, meat and other farm produce involved knowing farmers or people who knew farmers. This phenomenon known as the ‘black market’ which also functioned in Poland during WW2 amid strict rules imposed by the Nazi occupier, is an organic response to unsustainable (that word but in its true sense) life limiting conditions. When there are shortages, people develop their own systems of exchange, a parallel society.
But the ‘parallel society’ was not just an informal system of economic exchange. What came to be of particular use under the conditions of extreme economic crisis, had also been developed by then in other fields of life.
During the 1970s, the democratic opposition which emerged among a number of activist intellectuals and workers developed legal and practical self-defence structures to support striking workers facing job losses, repressions and financial hardship. KOR, the Workers Defence Committee began its work in 1976 and was a foundation of later structures of support available in August 1980.
That form of activism focused not on pushing for political confrontation with the authorities but on developing civil society structures parallel and independent of the official and party-controlled organisations, unable to respond to real and rich needs of citizenry.
One of the best-known democratic activists of that time, Jacek Kuron wrote in a 1977 underground publication:
Every independent social initiative challenges the monopoly of the state and thereby challenges the basis on which it exercises power.
Then in 1979 he wrote:
The programme of the self-organisation of Polish society into independent social movements and institutions… is today the only road to the realisation of the goals of the opposition and the aspirations of society.
Thus, for that vision of the opposition the aim was not to enter the structures of power and attempt to reform it – that was seen impossible. The aim was to abandon politics understood as the official exercise of power, and instead, to create parallel islands of independent and autonomous public sphere whilst living within the official system.
The US political scientist David Ost, named this oppositional strategy as anti-politics. Today, amid the encroaching domination of the Covid 19 rules, that same idea of the parallel society functioning outside of the increasingly exclusionary and hostile environment to the dissidents of the official narrative has been called for as the solution by many.
In Poland, the result of that oppositional strategy was a growth, still before the strikes of 1980, of independent publishing with uncensored newsletters, journals, pamphlets, books, as well as independent organisations, meeting places which were completely outside of the government control.
Publishing and possession of independent literature could be punished but the reality was that people were rarely caught so the appetite for access to independent source of literature grew despite the risks.
Another example of the parallel society were educational initiatives, notably the ‘Flying University’ offering lectures in secret locations by prominent academics and professors.
Clandestine education as a form of resistance to external physical and cultural oppression has a long history in Poland. During martial law, this parallel society, again, acquired significance. Before my matriculation exams, together with a couple of friends, we went to an old professor’s home to hear an uncensored history lecture.
Whilst the population was busy trying to survive the harsh economic conditions of martial law, opposition activism continued. Underground press was published, leaflets circulated and oppositional graffiti appeared on walls. A frequently seen image was the ‘TV Lies’ slogan.
In one city in the south, a regular protest against government lies began: citizens would go for a walk to a local park just as the main 7.30pm TV news started. A precursor to the 2021 Stand in the Park in UK during lockdown.
The authorities responded by introducing a local curfew at 7.30pm. There were large street protest in the Spring of 1982 and more strikes in the Summer.
Throughout the entire period, several independent underground radio stations broadcast short Solidarity programmes boosting morale of the citizens. One of the radio stations interrupted the official TV channel by broadcasting over its sound waves.
Whilst Solidarity supporters in the West could wear T-shirt with the Solidarity logo, in Poland that would be met with an arrest. Similarly, wearing a Solidarity badge could also be punished, an alternative badge became popular among those identifying with resistance: a small electrical resistor attached to a lapel or pinned to a jumper.
These were tiny, barely noticeable, and only recognised by those who knew what they were.
The one social institution which was not under control of the communist authorities and where anti-regime sentiments could be expressed if not directly then through religious and patriotic symbols was the Church.
The period during martial law intensified a link between the opposition and the Church even among non-believers. Thus, the Church offered a safe space for oppositional activities as well as provided a distribution centre for much of the aid coming from abroad.
It is unclear whether that close relationship between opposition and the Church resulted in a more deeply religious Polish population but it certainly produced high rates of church-going.
On national holidays or dates of historical significance when patriotic themes, symbols and songs were evoked, it was clear that resistance to the authoritarian rule of the Polish government, seen as a puppet of the Soviet empire, was also carried out in a spiritual realm. It was about protecting collective identity, a sense of belonging to a nation and a culture which had been under existential threat for two hundred years (with a short interlude between WW1 and WW2).
Importantly however, there was a powerful spiritual message coming form the Church: ‘do not be afraid’.
There was also a spiritual dimension to resistance to the regime which involved a focus on the ethical issues endemic to the system: its reliance of lies, on the manipulation of history, its denial of truth about events which people knew first hand. Just like today, the system was gaslighting the people and it forced the population to self-censor itself, to deny its truths.
Writing about the plight of writers and artists at the totalitarian Stalinist phase when an active adoption of the new ideology of socialist realism was required, Czeslaw Milosz said:
‘So long as they act in accordance with ‘socialist realism’ they are automatically and inescapably enrolled among the followers of Stalin.
‘Socialist realism’ is much more than a matter of taste, of preference for one style of painting or music rather than another. It is concerned with the beliefs which lie at the foundation of human existence. In the field of literature, it forbids what has in every age been the writer’s essential task – to look at the world from his own independent viewpoint, to tell the truth as he sees it, and so to keep watch and ward in the interest of society as a whole. It preaches a proper attitude of doubt in regard to a merely formal system of ethics but itself makes all judgement of values dependent upon the interest of the dictatorship.’
Czeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind, 1952
Unable to participate as a writer and a poet in the construction of a lie, Milosz chose exile, and paid the ultimate price: a loss of his home, country and his language. ‘What is a poet who has no longer a language of his own? All these things were mine if I would pay the price: obedience’.
The theme of living a ‘lie’ was also developed by Vaclav Havel. His 1970s writings deal with the post-totalitarian phase in which, as he argued the system no longer relies on the use of terror but on the fear of loss of security.
Havel calls the power structure of post-totalitarianism as built of the foundations of (previous) dictatorship, or terror and a consumer society. Havel asks:
Is it not true that the far-reaching adaptability to living a lie and the effortless spread of social auto-totality have some connection with the general unwillingness of consumption oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity? […] With their vulnerability to the attractions of mass indifference?
Today, that spiritual dimension involved in resistance is, again, relevant as we are witnessing a restructuring of society and its sliding towards a totalitarian state on the back of the Covid 19 pandemic crisis. Many who have spoken out and are active on the many resistance platforms do so because they simply cannot participate in or remain silent about, the global acts of malfeasance.
Many in resistance, aware of the complex and pre-planned attack on our way of life consider their response to this attack in spiritual and moral terms.
In May 1982 I passed all my exams despite sitting in front of the politically zealous head-teacher. She did not recognise me in my new hairstyle or perhaps she did not care.
Some of the restrictions of martial law ended in July 1982 yet martial law itself continued until July 1983. The system continued to struggle economically; the regime attempted to hang on to its power by continuing to repress the opposition. Several high-profile murders of priests by the militia shocked the country.
Forty people are known to have been killed as a result of martial law between 13 December 1981 and 22 July 1983 at the hands of the armed militia or the army. Many more were injured, lost their jobs, were evicted from their homes and were imprisoned. Many thousands, including myself, decided to emigrate as a result.
In the next few years, the country continued to struggle economically whilst the opposition reasserted itself again. With some relaxation of travel and other restrictions, an explosion of small-scale trade based on imports of goods into Poland began. The country turned into a massive car boot sale.
In 1988 a series of strikes which ended in December with formal talks between the opposition and the government about the future democratisation of the political and social systems and about economic reforms.
The following Spring 1989 saw the famous Round Table talks between the communist government and Solidarity opposition. This marked the beginning of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. The rest is history, with a disappointing betrayal of the Solidarity tradition by the arrival of a new form of injustice: neoliberalism.
As I reflect on the experiences of East European post/totalitarian systems I come to a cautiously optimistic conclusion.
Both the Nazi and the Stalinist regimes embodied the totalitarian terror-based forms of power. They caused untold amount of human suffering, and unprecedented numbers of deaths yet they were both doomed to fail precisely for their inability to sustain life.
All of the key actors involved were condemned by history. After Stalin’s death a post-totalitarian system evolved in most countries behind the Iron Curtain with what Havel observes as a reliance of the system on self-disciplining compliant citizen.
Today’s power greedy controllers of the agenda are trying to orchestrate a shift to the New Normal without the population noticing it, and that must mean, without mass terror, and directly into a form of post-totalitarianism.
What they are using instead, is sophisticated psychological operations deploying fear on all sections of society.
The fear of the virus in all its variants works on the mainstream population well to promote the jabs and the passports. But could it be, that we, in the resistance, are also subject to psy-ops?
What are we afraid of most of all?
The possibility of an introduction of vaccine mandates and jab passes with the threat of job losses is a powerful threat and it might work on some. Yet, in Germany, UK and other places there are significant minorities who will never succumb to this pressure.
What is the regime’s next move?
Camps for the unvaccinated? Forced vaccinations?
Somehow, I do not believe the regime can afford a move towards terror. That would end the support of the many who are already unhappy about having to get boosters at regular intervals. Those unwilling to vaccinate ad infinitum will only grow in numbers. Forced vaccinations and a reliance on concentration camps would also create martyrs of thousands or millions of people at which point, credibility and legitimacy of their agenda would end.
On the morning of 13 December 1981, and in the months that followed, the situation felt bleak and indeed, the black and white images of tanks in the streets and long queues for food do give a true representation of the hardship and the loss of hope at that time.
Yet, we know something today that we didn’t then. The one-party post/totalitarian centrally planned economies do not last forever.
Economically, they are inefficient and cannot respond to societal needs. But there is also something else that post/totalitarian systems fail at. The totalising system, based on the drive to control turns itself into a monolith. The more it tries to control, the more entropic IT becomes.
Havel calls it the ‘entropic’ regime which is doomed to fail. ‘Life, by contrast’ writes Havel:
with its irrepressible urge to oppose entropy, is able all the more successfully and inventively to resist being violated, the faster the violating authority succumbs to its own sclerosis. In trying to paralyse life, the authorities paralyse themselves and, in the long run, incapacitate themselves for paralysing life.”
With our knowledge of what kind of transhumanist future today’s crazy totalitarians dream of installing this much is clear: life, as long as there is life, will resist and, as Havel writes: ‘it always survives the power that ravished it’
Joanna Sharp is an academic living in London.
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