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The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe

Overview

How did the fall of communism and the subsequent transition to capitalism in Eastern Europe affect the people who experienced it? And how did their anger affect the quality of the democratic systems that have emerged? Poland offers a particularly provocative case, for it was here where workers most famously seemed to have won, thanks to the role of the Solidarity trade union. And yet, within a few short years, they had clearly lost. An oppressive communist regime gave way to a capitalist society that embraced ...

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Overview

How did the fall of communism and the subsequent transition to capitalism in Eastern Europe affect the people who experienced it? And how did their anger affect the quality of the democratic systems that have emerged? Poland offers a particularly provocative case, for it was here where workers most famously seemed to have won, thanks to the role of the Solidarity trade union. And yet, within a few short years, they had clearly lost. An oppressive communist regime gave way to a capitalist society that embraced economic and political inequality, leaving many workers frustrated and angry. Their leaders first ignored them, then began to fear them, and finally tried to marginalize them. In turn, workers rejected their liberal leaders, opening the way for right-wing nationalists to take control of Solidarity.

Ost tells a fascinating story about the evolution of postcommunist society in Eastern Europe. Informed by years of fieldwork in Polish factory towns, scores of interviews with workers, labor activists, and politicians, and an exhaustive reading of primary sources, his new book gives voice to those who have not been heard. But even more, Ost proposes a novel theory about the role of anger in politics to show why such voices matter, and how they profoundly affect political outcomes. Drawing on Poland's experiences, Ost describes lessons relevant to democratization throughout Eastern Europe and to democratic theory in general.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ost's book is personal, the result of repeated visits to Polish factories and mines, real knowledge of Polish mental habits, and familiarity with the abundant Polish sociological literature. It is also the work of a man who once saw Solidarity as a possible inspiration for the Western Left, and who has now come to see it rather as a cautionary tale of globalization. Indeed, the argument seems relevant in an American context, where the conservative voting of patriotic workers is a cause of distress on the Left, and perhaps dangerous to democracy."—Timothy Snyder, Times Literary Supplement, 23 and 30 December, 2005

"Ost goes against the grain, insisting that class is still a useful, indeed vital, sociopolitical category and that the working class, although usually among the losers in the transition from socialism to capitalism, remains a necessary impetus, not an obstacle, to democracy."—Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006

"David Ost draws upon his thorough research to make many important points. The Defeat of Solidarity will be of interest not only to those who study Poland (and other former Communist countries) but also to those who study social movements and the political role of blue-collar workers."—Mark Kramer, Harvard University

"The relationship between labor and democracy is very important but often insufficiently examined and understood, as David Ost shows. In The Defeat of Solidarity, which is based on his detailed knowledge of the Polish case, he also argues that class should be brought back to the forefront of political analysis."—Jan Kubik, Rutgers University

"This theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich new book focuses on workers, liberal intellectuals, and the prospects of post-communist democracy. David Ost long ago established himself as a truly original thinker on labor politics in Eastern Europe. His argument that the mobilization of anger along class lines—as opposed to ethnic or religious lines—is the best way to secure liberal democracy will provoke intense discussion in the field for years to come."—Bela Greskovits, Central European University

"The Defeat of Solidarity is a vigorous plea for bringing labor back into the study of post-communist politics. Well documented and based exclusively on the 'special' case of Poland, this book by David Ost nevertheless raises crucial issues affecting all of Eastern Central Europe. The stark contrast he draws between the politics of class interest and alien identity—as alternative means for—congealing anger' in the course of democratization may not convince everyone, but it does make an original and provocative contribution to the literature."—Philippe C. Schmitter, European University Institute

Foreign Affairs
Ost goes against the grain, insisting that class is still a useful, indeed vital, sociopolitical category and that the working class, although usually among the losers in the transition from socialism to capitalism, remains a necessary impetus, not an obstacle, to democracy. When laborers are abandoned, as they were by the Solidarity leadership, labor, rather than religion or ethnicity, becomes the channel for the politics of anger — not the murderous kind, but the kind derived from the frustration of those excluded from the benefits of liberal democracy, which to have meaning and stability must be inclusive. Labor is open to the appeals of those, usually on the right, who would urge anger against people (Jews, women, minorities) rather than situations (economic inequities). Something of this sort, he says, happened in Poland after 1989, turning class conflict — a natural feature of capitalism — from a fight over interests into a fight over identity, "thus promoting an illiberal political culture that has haunted Poland's democratization process ever since."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801473432
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2006
  • Pages: 250
  • Sales rank: 983,283
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Democracy and the organization of anger 13
2 Solidarity against itself 37
3 Market populism and the turn to the right 60
4 How liberals lost labor 94
5 Communist and postcommunist experiences of class 121
6 Labor at work : unions in the workplace 149
7 Conclusion : class, civil society, and the future of postcommunist democracy 179
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