‘We want to deprive those in power of their power.’ Fighting Solidarity 1982–1990

Fighting Solidarity in action

In the summer of 1982, a new organisation appeared on the map of political opposition in Poland – Fighting Solidarity (SW, Polish: Solidarność Walcząca). Its hallmark were radical slogans calling to overthrow the communist dictatorship.

by Michał Siedziako


The introduction of martial law on 13 December 1981 brought only partial success to the communist authorities in Poland. The most important leaders of Solidarity were arrested, the union broken up and outlawed, and strikes in its defence quickly crushed. Solidarity may have been deprived of the possibility to operate in public, yet some of its ordinary members and leaders, who remained free, decided to continue their activity illegally, underground. Its main manifestation in the first months of 1982 were secret meetings of activists, during which arrangements were made to set up underground opposition structures. Their main form of activity was the printing and distribution of independent publications – leaflets, brochures and, with time, regular periodicals, and even books. The activists of the Solidarity underground agreed that the state monopoly on information should be broken in this way. However, they were divided in their views on other forms of opposition to the authorities’ policy. This type of dispute was at the origin of Fighting Solidarity.

T-55A on the streets during Martial law in Poland (photo by J. Żołnierkiewicz; public domain)

Strikes vs street demonstrations

One of the important underground structures in Poland in 1982 was the Regional Solidarity Strike Committee (Polish acronym ‘RKS’) of Lower Silesia. It was headed by Władysław Frasyniuk – before the introduction of martial law, the head of the union’s regional structures in the region, and a member of its national authorities. After 13 December 1981, the RKS also included Kornel Morawiecki, later the founder of Fighting Solidarity, a seemingly completely inconspicuous doctor of physics at the Wrocław University of Technology, who nevertheless had a lot of experience in the opposition.

As a young academic in Wrocław, Morawiecki took part in the student protests of March 1968. From then on, he was regularly involved in various protest actions. In the late 1970s, he joined the Lower Silesia Social Self-Defence Club, which, similarly to the Warsaw Workers’ Defence Committee, organised aid campaigns for repressed workers in Lower Silesia. He was a member of the editorial team of the underground monthly Biuletyn Dolnośląski, and soon became its editor-in-chief. After August 1980, he naturally joined Solidarity. Although he did not perform any important functions within the trade union, he was particularly dangerous for the communist authorities, as he printed Russian-language leaflets addressed to Soviet soldiers stationed in Poland, to whom he wanted to explain the true meaning of Solidarity. Meanwhile, according to the communist authorities, this threatened the Polish-Soviet alliance – as Poland’s subordination to the Soviet Union was euphemistically called – and all topics that could irritate the Russians were considered taboo. In the autumn of 1981, he was detained for this reason, but regained his freedom on the guarantee of the rector of his university, and under the threat of Solidarity staging strikes. After 13 December 1981, like Frasyniuk, he avoided arrest and went into hiding. In the RKS, he was responsible for the circulation of information, and publishing and distribution matters.

Both Frasyniuk and Morawiecki proved to be distinctive leaders, and each of them had a different vision of opposition activity. The axis of the dispute was the question of whether it was necessary to organise street demonstrations or rather short-lived warning strikes in workplaces. According to Frasyniuk, organising street demonstrations was ‘pushing people under the guns’, which is why he was in favour of factory strikes. These, in Morawiecki’s view, enabled the authorities to identify and arrest opposition supporters. He believed that the street could be a place for effective protests felt by the authorities.

Milicja Obywatelska actions in Poland during the martial law of 1981-1983 (public domain)

A new underground organisation

The dispute intensified before the ‘half-anniversary’ of the introduction of martial law, during which the oppositionists planned to once again manifest their opposition to the actions of the authorities. In late May 1982, at a meeting of the RKS, the action plan for 13 June was discussed. The idea of laying flowers at the commemorative plaque at the tram depot in Grabiszyńska St in Wrocław – the cradle of the local Solidarity chapter – was then rejected. Morawiecki and a group of his supporters did not agree to such a resolution, and left the meeting. That same day, they decided to continue their opposition activity on their own, outside the RKS. The first manifestation of this activity was the launch of a new samizdat periodical, Solidarność Walcząca. The first issue, published in early June 1982, called for a street demonstration on 13 June. Several thousand people took part in it, and there were clashes with police. The organisers could claim success as the events were widely echoed throughout the country, and also abroad.

On the wave of this success, the Fighting Solidarity Compact was created, which was a loose federation of circles supporting the staging of anti-communist street demonstrations. Their cooperation proved so fruitful that, after just a few months, the word ‘Compact’ was dropped from the name, and the SW became an organisation in its own right, with Kornel Morawiecki its undisputed leader.

The starting point for further activity was the rejection of the possibility of returning to the dialogue and agreement with the communists conducted before 13 December 1981 (and this was what a significant part of the leaders of the underground Solidarity wanted). ‘Deceived for 38 years, we no longer believe in an agreement with these authorities and in reforming this system. We want to change it and deprive those in power of their power,’ was the credo of Morawiecki and the SW. In the same agenda-setting text, Morawiecki explained: ‘We realise that a frontal clash [with the authorities – author’s note] risks disaster. That is why we are betting on a continuous uphill struggle, which, conducted with persistence and determination, will eventually tip the scales of victory in our favour.’ According to Morawiecki, the primary method of this fight was to be the creation of an underground publishing circuit. However, he also encouraged other activities ‘at all levels and in various ways, from passive resistance to almost terrorist actions’.

Kornel Morawiecki in 1990 (photo: PAP/S. Kraszewski)

Fighting Solidarity in action

The SW’s slogans proved extremely catchy and, as a result, its structures quickly expanded. Initially, these included subsequent locations in Lower Silesia, and gradually also other regions. As early as in 1982, SW branches were formed in Gdańsk and Katowice and, in 1983, in Lublin, Jelenia Góra, Poznań, Rzeszów, and Konin. In the following years, they were joined by groups of oppositionists from all major and many minor Polish cities. Their main field of activity was the printing and distribution of independent publications: within a few years, a true underground ‘press empire’ was created, including over 130 titles.

Many people were involved in the SW’s activities who, like Morawiecki, had a specialist, technical university education: people familiar with radio technology, employed in radio and television service companies, or at technical universities. Thanks to them, one of the SW’s trademarks became the broadcasting of independent radio programmes. Owing to their knowledge, the construction of amateur radio transmitters using commercially available materials was not difficult. Independent broadcasts were used to interfere with popular radio programmes, as well as to access the audio of television programmes. Radio SW was the quickest to start broadcasting in the Lower Silesian capital, already in June 1982. With time, radio transmitters (either of their own design or obtained from Wrocław) were available to SW branches likely in all major Polish cities.

Extreme actions (perhaps the most famous example here is the accumulation of weapons by Tri-City activists, and the planting of a bomb by the building of the PZPR’s (Polish United Workers’ Party) Municipal Committee in Gdynia were exceptional, although the postulate of such activity was an important element of the phraseology with which the SW attempted to influence society. Although the organisation’s publications called for a fight against the communist regime, and occasionally wrote about the need to sacrifice one’s life in this battle, it was not about inciting an armed uprising or physical aggression. The reality of communist Poland was described in very radical terms. In one article published in the underground press, Morawiecki wrote: ‘Western societies are afraid that terrorists will overthrow the governments there and take power. With us, the terrorists are already in power. And the idea is to overthrow the power of the terrorists ruling the nation, against its will, based on organised terror, called the “rule of law”, and lawlessness, called “law”.’ However, this was not followed by any radical acts.

Kornel Morawiecki on the stamps of Fighting Solidarity

In order to join the organisation, new members had to take the following oath in the presence of two already sworn activists: ‘Before God and the Homeland, I swear to fight for a free and independent Solidarity-driven Republic, to devote my strength, time – and, if necessary, my life – to build such a Poland. I swear to fight for solidarity between people and nations. I swear to develop the ideas of our movement, not to betray it, and to conscientiously fulfil the tasks entrusted to me within it.’ This way of recruiting members meant that the organisation grew in a virtually uncontrolled way, and today it is impossible to say precisely how large a structure it was. In the second half of the 1980s, it could have been a group of several thousand people. It should be remembered, however, that while the legal Solidarity movement had a peak of around ten million members in 1981, after the union was banned under martial law, the number of active members of the Solidarity underground fell to only a small fraction of that number. In the mid-1980s, according to the Ministry of the Interior, the entire anti-communist underground numbered no more than a dozen or so thousand committed members.

In the activity of the SW, special importance was attached to observing the rules of conspiracy and the safety of activists. The SW became famous for its own counter-intelligence, which was headed by Jan Pawłowski. The key element of the organisation’s counter-espionage activities was radio monitoring of the frequencies used for communication by police and Security Service (Polish acronym ‘SB’) officers. Specialised equipment of their own construction (e.g. converted radios), and equipment obtained from abroad, was used for this purpose. Thanks to this, information was obtained in advance on the planned activities of the repressive apparatus, such as planned searches or arrests. It was therefore possible to avoid such repression, hide illegal publications in advance, or evacuate underground printing works.

Demonstration in Katowice, November 11, 1989 (photo: Przemysław Miskiewicz; CC BY-SA 4.0)

‘I refuse to answer’

For security reasons, some SW activists also had their own ‘doubles’. These were people appointed to instantly take over functions from someone who had been captured, and was involved in something important, such as looking after the network of underground print shops. Morawiecki also had his own ‘double’ as head of the SW. Unluckily, both Morawiecki and his double were arrested at short intervals: Morawiecki in November 1987, and Andrzej Kołodziej from the Tri-City already in January 1988.

Morawiecki and Kołodziej were subjected to intense interrogations, but the SB officers interrogating them quickly realised that they would not be able to extract any information from them. In the surviving interrogation protocols, a monotonous ‘I refuse to answer’ is written underneath the successive questions of the detectives. Morawiecki spoke out in more detail only in an open letter addressed to General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the main author of martial law at the helm of the ruling PZPR. Admitting that he had headed an underground, anti-communist organisation, he asked in the letter to be tried for that, and not on the charges of common crimes (using a false identity card and smuggling) that had been brought against him. He did not receive an answer, of course, but neither did the trial take place, because Morawiecki and Kołodziej were tricked into leaving the Polish People’s Republic in late April 1988 (in order to take allegedly necessary treatment in a foreign institution). Only when they found themselves abroad (transported by plane to Italy), did it turn out that they had no possibility to cross the border the other way. However, Morawiecki managed to return to Poland illegally at the end of August 1988.

Fighting Solidarity Poster

Outside the victors’ camp

At that time, first attempts at talks between the communist authorities and part of the opposition were just beginning. The activity of Fighting Solidarity and a few other opposition organisations called ‘radical’ made it easier for the leaders of the PZPR to start negotiations with what was called the moderate opposition, referred to as ‘constructive’ at the time. The division of the opposition into ‘constructive’, with whom talks could commence, and ‘extremists’, who had to be isolated, made it easier for the leadership of the PZPR to justify within its own ranks why, after years of martial law, the outlawing of Solidarity, and the policy of repression, it had decided to recognise the representatives of the milieu centred around Lech Wałęsa as a discussion partner.

The key demand of the latter was to bring back trade union pluralism in Poland by restoring the possibility for Solidarity to operate legally. However, there was no such unambiguous demand as the one made by the SW to remove the PZPR from power. This could not be done, anyway, if one wanted to return to the legal trade union and public activity by legal means. It was necessary here to reach an agreement with at least part of the still ruling PZPR, known as party reformers, which was in fact hoped for.

Meanwhile, the PZPR, following its unsuccessful attempts at economic reforms, in the face of a growing crisis of its rule and of the state (in summer 1988 there was a wave of strikes in the country again), was in fact forced to seek an agreement with Wałęsa and his backers, who invariably enjoyed great social trust. Although this was not the original intention of the party decision-makers, these actions led, after several months, to power being handed over to the Solidarity team, which decided to sit down for talks at the Round Table, and subsequently achieved overwhelming success in the ‘contractual’ elections of June 1989. However, this was not a representation of the entire anti-communist underground. Morawiecki’s organisation, among others, found itself outside the camp of the election winners – not even taking part in the election, as it was held on the basis of a compromise with the communist authorities.

Session of the Poland’s Round Table, April 1989 (photo: PAP/Jan Bogacz)

In the face of the fall of the Polish People’s Republic

The leaders of the SW in the period immediately preceding the fall of the Polish People’s Republic were still opposed to any talks with representatives of the authorities. While Wałęsa’s circle undertook negotiations with them, Morawiecki and his supporters criticised such actions. They consistently argued that it was impossible to talk to the communists, and that their rule should simply be overthrown. So they continued their underground activities. It was not until June 1989 that some of the SW activists came out into the open.

After the government headed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki representing the Solidarity camp was formed (September 1989), Morawiecki sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, concluding with the wish that, during his term in office, the ‘decomposition of communism took place faster than its adjustment to the new situation’. In the following months, the SW demanded an acceleration of the ongoing political changes, including immediate completely free elections, the resignation of General Jaruzelski as President (he took office in the summer of 1989), and the ministers of defence, General Florian Siwicki, and internal affairs, General Czesław Kiszczak, who were members of the Mazowiecki government as representatives of the PZPR. The SW’s activity came to an end in July 1990, when the Freedom Party was established on its basis. However, this formation did not play any significant role on the political scene of the Third Republic.

It may seem paradoxical that the organisation, which, from its very beginning, had opposed the communist dictatorship in Poland and, at the same time, had a considerable organisational potential, disappeared from the political scene together with the fall of this dictatorship. However, the radically anti-communist demands of the SW were ill-suited to the conditions in which the political transformation of the Polish People’s Republic into the Third Republic took place. While Morawiecki’s organisation called for the immediate removal of the communists from power, the political reforms in Poland began with their enormous participation. They could not have taken place had it not been for the consent of the PZPR leadership for the Round Table, the June elections, and the subsequent acceptance of giving the opposition the key position of Prime Minister in the Polish government system (representatives of the communist party also co-founded the government formed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and were part of the ‘grand coalition’ supporting him). The communists were not ‘overthrown’ overnight, as the SW had wanted. A key role in removing them from power was played by dialogue, which the more conciliatory part of the opposition decided on.


Author: Michał Siedziako – PhD in political sciences, employee of the History Research Office of Institute of National Remembrance
Translation: Mikołaj Sekrecki