The Polish August:the Self-Limiting Revolution

Keith Middlemas writes:

In the six months since Neal Ascherson’s intricate but lucid account of the rise of Solidarity was finished, Poland’s affairs have become the latest world-heroic saga. While the climax, Soviet invasion, seems to have been replaced by General Jaruzelski’s quite unforeseen takeover, myth has already taken on the force of history, and two themes are now becoming established: that the ‘extremists’ in Solidarity overplayed their hands, thereby challenging the Soviet Union’s interest in a friendly Poland; and that by inducing Jaruzelski to move, Moscow invaded by proxy. In assessing whether such claims are valid, Ascherson’s analysis is extremely valuable. It complements Denis MacShane’s recent book[*] and raises very wide questions about patterns of working-class revolt, and the role of intellectuals, in Eastern Europe since the arrival of the people’s democracies – questions which will not disappear whatever the fate of Solidarity.

(LRB 4 February 1982)

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