The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist
Europe. By David Ost. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.
“Whatever happened to Solidarity?” is an often heard
question, echoing the passivity of organized labor during the transition
to capitalism throughout Eastern Europe. The position of the working class
is especially puzzling in view of Solidarity's role in bringing down
communist power in Poland and beyond. Yet the mighty force of the 1980s
became a shadow of itself during the construction of markets and
democracy, losing members' loyalty, organizational power, and
political influence as the country embraced the ideology of neoliberalism.
David Ost offers a powerful and original answer to the question of
Solidarity's demise, one that goes beyond the oft-repeated claims
about economic and social dislocation rendering the working class the
“losers” in the postcommunist reconstruction. Rather than
adhering solely to structural explanations, Ost focuses on political
agency as determining the fate of the working class. His bold, persuasive
assertion is that workers were abandoned by intellectual allies and union
leaders. The new Polish elite embraced a radical vision of the liberal,
capitalist future that left little room for accommodation with the working
class. Even worse, by overlooking the interests of labor, the liberal
establishment pushed the workers to channel their resentment in a populist
direction, ultimately embracing the ideology and political parties of the
nationalist Right (pp. 66, 95–96).