In the photo above, taken on May 1, 1989, Jacek Kuroń, a leader of the democratic opposition in Poland, marched with Solidarity, a movement he was instrumental in building. The demonstration came on the eve of victory for Poland’s anti-authoritarian opposition. Thirty years after Solidarity finally ended bureaucratic single-party rule, we can appreciate both its achievement as well as its unfulfilled promise.
One mark of that unrealized potential are three letters printed on the banner behind Kuroń, FSO, the acronym for Poland’s most famous car factory, located in Warsaw. It was here, in 1956, that Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski came to unite students and workers around the struggle for a socialist democracy.
The FSO was the central site in that momentous year of the workers’ council movement, whose leadership advocated for workers to take control of their factories. In October, when the possibility of Soviet intervention loomed over the councils, the workers were ready to go to their deaths. The invasion never came, but the new First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party Władysław Gomułka, who had...
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