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The ordinary Polish Catholics who brought down Communism

Communism never inspired love in a deeply faithful people

By on Friday, 6 July 2012

Poles attend the installation of Pope John Paul II AP/Press Association Images

Poles attend the installation of Pope John Paul II AP/Press Association Images

Every now and then you feel a sudden stab of sympathy for a group of people for whom, frankly, you never thought you would feel sorry. I was standing in front of a huge black and white photograph. It was taken from the tower of St Mary’s in the Market Square in Krakow; it showed a huge concourse of people in the square, about half a million of them, dressed in white. This was an event of which I had never heard – the “White March” of 17th May 1981. John Paul II had just survived the attempt on his life, and half a million people from his former diocese had walked through the city in solidarity with him, finishing their march in the square, where a mass was celebrated by Cardinal Macharski. (There are some pictures of it here.) 

The photograph was pointed out to me by a lady called Annetta, a vivacious redhead; one never likes to ask a lady’s age, but she was old enough to have been there, and I asked her where she had been standing in the picture. Naturally she had been there, standing by the small church if Saint Adalbert, she told me.

People did go to huge Communist rallies in the old days, but they went, one rather suspects, because they felt they had to, rather than because they wanted to. But for John Paul, people turned out with a will. It was all organised by word of mouth, and all organised in defiance of the state. And those were the people I felt sorry for – the members of the Politburo, the high ups in the Polish United Workers’ Party: Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev’s henchmen. How their hearts must have sunk when they saw half a million people turn out to pray for their Pope. For at that moment they must have seen that it was all quite hopeless, that Communism was doomed, that it never had, and never would, command people’s affections in the way the Church and Karol Wojtyla so effortlessly did.

Annetta came from Nowa Huta, a place that saw one of the earlier struggles between Catholicism and Communism. It was built as a Stalinist exemplar of urban planning. There was no church, except a small wooden one, that pre-existed the steel works and the model housing for workers. But the workers wanted a church and built one for themselves after Stalin’s death, in the teeth of government opposition. Funnily enough, as Annetta told me this, I remembered being told this story as a schoolboy. But Annetta had been there and witnessed it first hand.

Wikipedia says this:

One type of building lacking from the original urban design of Nowa Huta was a Roman Catholic church. The public campaign to construct it lasted several years. As early as 1960, inhabitants of Nowa Huta began applying for permit to build a church. In that year, violent street fights with riot-police erupted over a wooden cross, erected without a permit. The locals were supported by Bishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, and eventually, a church called the Lord’s Arc was built. The complex was consecrated by Wojtyla in 1977. Wojtyla himself, after being elected Pope in 1978, wanted to visit Nowa Huta during his first papal pilgrimage in 1979, but was not permitted to do so.

Ironically, Karol Wojtyla had done what most of the Politburo had perhaps never done – worked in a factory. Annetta often saw him in the Lord’s Ark church when he was auxiliary bishop in Krakow and later Archbishop. He was a frequent visitor. Like many Polish people of her generation, she knew him.

The story of Nowa Huta, the story of the White March, these point me to a great truth about Catholicism. It is a mass movement, but unlike Communism, it is a mass movement of individuals who remain individuals. It doesn’t swallow us up, and it gives each of us a role to play. And it allows us – if we give it a chance – to play our part, a heroic part. Yes, John Paul II got rid of Communism. But so did Annetta, so did countless others like her.

  • Jonathan West

    The fall of Communism had very little to do with Polish catholicism and everything to do with the price of oil. The decisions which caused the fall of communism were taken in Riyadh, not Warsaw or Krakow or Nowa Huta.

    The reason the USSR fell is that it ran out of foreign currency to pay for the grain needed to feed the population. Despite the USSR having some of the most fertile farmland in the world, the collectivisation of its agriculture turned it from a leading exporter of grain to a leading importer.

    As a result, the USSR needed hard currency to pay for foreign grain. Soviet manufactured goods weren’t much wanted in the West, but the Soviets had a fair bit of oil. The oil price rose to dizzy heights in the 1970s but fell from those heights in the 1980s as a result of Saudi Arabia deciding in 1985 no longer to restrict production in order to maintain the price. This cost the USSR $20 billion a year in export revenues, without which it could not feed the people. For a while they were able to obtain commercial loans from Western banks, but eventually this source of credit dried up.

    The USSR turned to western governments for credits of $100 billion, and this was arranged, but in essence the price was that the threat or use of military force should no longer be made to maintain the communist governments in Eastern Europe. Within a few months they were gone. When Gorbachov tried to re-establish central rule over Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, he was told by the Americans that this was an internal matter to the USSR and that Gorbachov could take whatever measure he wished – but that if force was used, he could kiss goodbye to the $100 billion credit line.

    The coup against Yeltsin failed because the generals had no more idea how to feed the population without the western credits than anybody else did.

    Don’t take my word for this. Read all about it in the words of Yegor Gaidar. Between 1991 and 1994, he was acting prime minister of Russia, minister of economy, and first deputy prime minister. In other words, he was there at the centre of power when the USSR collapsed, and should be in a position to know why it happened.

    http://frum.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MGRlMzFjMTYxMGFkMTE2YWU5M2Y5MzBhNGMzMTFkNWM= 

  • teigitur

    The fall of communism had everything to do with the fact that the Pope was a Pole. Where did it all start ? with Solidarity of course. There were other factors, pehaps, as you illustrate above, but without Polish Catholicism and Polish Pope, the end of communism in much of eastern Europe would have been delayed by a very long time.
     As if the USSR is going to admit it had anything to do with The Church. Like the media,it will never give the Church credit for anything.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I am sure what you say is true, but, and it is a huge but, economic factors, though important, may not be the only factors at work. And what you say misses the essential point, namely that the Polish United Workers’ Party ruled without the consent of the people.

  • Jonathan West

    Had the USSR not run out of money, it might still be ruling Poland without the consent of the people. Rule without the consent of the people might be illegitimate in our eyes, but it can nonetheless be effective, and was for over 40 years. It was solely the economic issues which caused the Soviet leadership to agree to abandon the use and threat of force to maintain communist rule over Eastern Europe. Until they ran out of money, they were holding down the Polish people quite handily.

    Its rather ironic that decisions made in the capital of the muslim world resulted in national liberation for a catholic country.

  • JByrne24

    If I may paraphrase another: I think Fr Lucie-Smith has taken great pains to deceive himself before attempting (probably subconsciously) to deceive others.  

  • JByrne24

    “The fall of communism had everything to do with the fact that the Pope was a Pole. Where did it all start ? with Solidarity of course. ”

    That is just the point: it had little if anything to do with this and a great deal to do with international politics. As one with many friends in Eastern Europe before the demise of Communism, I was pleased to see the virtual end of it. However, since then, the unthinking, conservative hard-liners in the Church are causing our NHS abortion clinics to be flooded with Polish girls, who find the necessary operation difficult to get in Poland.
    (See British MPs re. abortion tourism in the UK: http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/archive/ldn/2010/mar/10031512    )

    There are excellent resources about Solidarity (many Polish) for any interested person to read. Its inspiration, growth and influence had little to do with a Polish shipyard electrician (including his speech from the dentist’s window opposite the Church in Ealing Broadway [W5], which I witnessed) and everything to do with the international politics mentioned by Jonathan West.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    The USSR ran out of money because of its disastrous agricultural policies, agreed. But that disaster of collectivisation was not merely an economic mistake. It was a moral mistake too – the mass murder of the Kulaks. That is why the USSSR failed. It was a tyranny based on terror. The oil price may have been the occasion of its fall, but not its root cause.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    There is no deception here.

  • Jonathan West

    Tyrannies based on terror work, that is why there have been rather a lot of them throughout history. The USSR didn’t fail because the Kulaks were murdered. Certainly the USSR should have failed because of this, but to claim that the murder of the Kulaks had anything to do with the fall of Communism is to commit the is/ought logical fallacy.

    I’m just as much against tyranny as you are, and quite possibly more so. If we are to defeat the tyrannies that remain, we need to have a clear understanding of what brought down the tyrannies that have already fallen. So let’s not have wishful thinking about minor and largely irrelevant factors. The USSR fell because it couldn’t afford to feed its population.

    By the way, one of the reasons Soviet agriculture failed was because Soviet biology came under the control of Lysenko, who gained Stalin’s approval to denounce western genetics and the theory of evolution, and follow a Lamarkian theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. A large number of Soviet geneticists were executed, those who tried to insist on the primacy of experimental data over dogma. His prescriptions for Soviet agriculture were disastrous and worsened the effects of collectivisation that they were supposed to alleviate.

    So the “root cause” as it were of the end the USSR was that it died of stupidity, of the elevation of dogma over observation, with the effect that it became incompetent at growing food.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I don’t see what your beef with my position is. The USSSR was a moral failure – surely we both agree on that? And a moral failure of a particularly gross and vile kind, which, sadly, so many westerners overlooked for far too long. Stupidity is a  moral failing, surely: they should have known better. In this case it was culpable stupidity.

  • Jonathan West

    I think we can both agree that the USSR was a loathsome government. We can debate whether stupidity or culpable ignorance is a moral failing, but in any case, it’s not the moral failing you previously claimed was the cause of communism’s fall – the murder of the Kulaks. I wish you would stop shifting your ground.

    The proximate cause of the fall of communism was the drop in the oil price, while the underlying cause was adherence to dogma even when it caused a food shortage.

    Therefore, the headline to this article is simply wrong. ordinary Polish Catholics did not bring down communism, and all their efforts would have been entirely in vain had it not been for world events completely outside their control.

    What can be said for the Polish people is that they bravely took their opportunity when it came, and I have no hesitation in applauding that bravery.

  • teigitur

    Now, I wonder if  being told that you have ignorant and brassy opinions, could be construed as being insulting?……mmmn…. probably.

  • teigitur

    Oh, I would not pay too much attention to Mr Byrne, Father. If you had blogged that the fall of communism had nothing to do with Catholic Poles, he would probably have posted that it did. Still, its amusing.

  • John-of-Hayling

    The apologists for the failed regimes of the East are still alive then………….

    I also was a frequent visitor to Poland during those years. One time I was asked by somebody at the level of Colonel in the Polish Army what I like about Poland. We had a short discussion and then I said that “one thing surprised me – in  all my visits I had never met anybody who supported the Polish United Workers Party, was I unlucky or did I just mix with the wrong people – perhaps I would find somebody if I met people from the Central Committee”. He looked at me carefully and gave a wry smile and said ‘perhaps not even there’ – this was at a time when the Committee was dominated by army types from the rank of Colonel upwards. He knew their views and there was not a marxist amongst them.
    Poland was run by smoke and mirrors – but the militia had a mean trick with water cannon, rubber hoses and real bullets if you stepped too far out of line.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

     Hi Jonathan. You accuse Father Lucie-Smith of shifting his ground by attributing the fall of the USSR first to the murder of Kulaks and then to stupidity in running agriculture. Could you explain how the murder of Kulaks (independent farmers) is separable from the policy of agricultural collectivization?

    Clearly the causation behind the fall of the Soviet Bloc is multi-faceted. But the role of the Catholic Church in creating post-Communist Poland explains why Poland emerged from the chaos as a thriving democracy while the USSR emerged as an anarcho-capitalist mess and is retreating back into varieties of totalitarianism. Perhaps the Soviet Bloc was destined to change as a result of economic problems. But the nature of that change was not determined purely by the economy. In Poland, the most powerful institution was the Church, not the KGB or the army. And that has coloured the nature of modern Poland (for the better). I’m not sure whether your adherence to a version of Marxist economic determinism or your usual anti-Catholicism is doing more to distort your understanding here. 

  • Jonathan West

    I think you’re misrepresenting Fr Lucie Smith. He started out by claimign  that communism fell beco=ause of the moral faulure involving the murder of the kulaks, but then shifted his ground by agreeing with me in that the underlying cause was the failure of soviet agriculture. 

    But neither of these was the cause claimed in the headline of the article – Polish catholics.

  • JByrne24

    I did in fact blog, some little time ago, my opinion that Blessed John Paul 2  contributed positively and most welcomely to the fall of Communism in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
    I went on to say that I found the evidence at least fairly convincing that one or more Communist governments were involved in the attempt to murder him.
    However, mainly because I have taken the trouble to read Polish, American, Russian and other sources about the rise of Solidarity and the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union, I am rather better informed than teigitur . The overwhelmingly major cause is without any doubt that outlined very well by Jonathan West, above.

    This reply is labelled as “in reply to teigitur” only so that it is
    in the correct position on the thread. The posting is for 
    Fr Lucie-Smith’s eyes. He recognises that Mr West’s views are “true” and rightly comments that other factors were involved.
    The intelligent discussion between these two gentlemen which
    follows is very interesting – and quite non-teigiturian in
    character.

  • JByrne24

    But the limited data you have, which causes you to come to your view, is insufficient. Other factors were vastly more important.

  • JByrne24

    “I don’t see what your beef with my position is.”
    As with Mr West: it’s the headline of your article. It is at best misleading. I would say it is untrue and indicates wishful thinking.

  • JByrne24

    VERY good teigi’.  Your old grey matter is working a bit.
    But yes, after “suffering” so very much from you, it’s just a little piece of “à bon chat bon rat”.

  • teigitur

    “I am rather better informed than teigitur” Yep, we know, world authority on everything. I have the tee-shirt.

  • teigitur

    Gee, thanks, JB. You have no idea how much this means to me!?
     No time at all in fact, just fuound it all amusing, as per all your posts. Lets hope ypou have a bit more to “suffer ” yet!

  • JByrne24

    Well, oddly enough, I read a good piece of old American advice today in my Saturday copy of the conservative and Conservative Daily Telegraph. I am taking this excellent advice to heart and shall henceforth conform to both the spirit and the letter of it.
    Unfortunately, however, this obliges me to make this response to your silliness the very last that I shall ever make.
    The advice in question?

    “Never engage in a pissing competition with a skunk”

  • teigitur

    Deo Gratias.

  • Charles Martel

     Yawn

  • Charles Martel

    Warning to all: JByrne24 is an anti-Catholic troll. Don’t bother.

  • Charles Martel

     Warning to all: JByrne24 is an anti-Catholic troll. Don’t bother.

  • Charles Martel

     Anti-Catholic, pro-abortion troll

  • Oconnordamien

    I think JW was replying to your conclusion that “Yes, John Paul II got rid of Communism. But so did Annetta, so did countless others like her.”

    Once you read his first sentence, ” The fall of Communism had very little to do with Polish catholicism and everything to do with the price of oil.” It’s clear that JW was speaking in real terms. Although you may well have been thinking in “romantic” terms the tone of the article was factual. (And at times triumphant). 

    The facts are as JW presented, there was no solidarity of Russian workers with the Polish. The vast majority would have been unaware of any events in Poland, or elsewhere. There was no internet (of course) or free media in the USSR. I would guess that the failure of the USSR in Afghanistan would have been a far bigger blow to the morale of Russians than any outside event. That was a failure that could not be hidden by a state controlled press. 

    I’ve read Russian commentaries which describe their loss in Afghanistan as far more damaging than the American loss in Vietnam. I’ve never heard of any worrying about a church being built in a buffer-zone.

       

  • stan zorin

    Who are the apologists at the Catholic Herald for the [communist] regimes, and where do you see an apology in the article for the mentioned regimes ?
    Further, Poland was run not only ” by smoke and mirrors ” but also by the credit [in fact giant welfare cheques, non repayable, to the country and to the communist party that ruled there] and by the subsidies provided by the so called free democratic West. The system could have collapsed earlier if not for this help provided by the illuminated ones in the key financial and political positions, this help to their somewhat maladroit atheistic brethren in power in ” the communist countries ” [only governments, really] of the East Europe.

  • stan zorin

    You are putting a horse in front of a cart and even worse. The system was basically the Soviet Union. Let me have a few words to say. The price of oil was not only not THE CAUSE of the fall of the so called “communism” [a malicious misnomer, the precise term to use would be "the jewish nazism", transformed in the early 1950's, after the international communist Jews outed themselves as national zionist Israelites, into dogmatic socialism of one corrupt party state], it was also not A CAUSE of this fall. The price of oil was only A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR to the economic stagnation and even the regression of the “socialist” economies. USSR had enough of its own oil to feed its machinery and its domestic economy to produce enough food to feed its people. The tzarist Russia, before 1914, was able to feed itself and have enough left to export the surplus. This was done on real ‘ horsepower ‘, with practically no machinery and electricity in the countryside. The Soviet Union, with the benefit of decades of technological and industrial advances and with having the best black earth soil for the agriculture, was not able to feed its people. The economy of the Soviet Union collapsed not because some sheikhs overpumped the oil but because the management of its economy was run according to the utterly deranged ideas of K. Marx; the Soviet agriculture regressed and could not provide enough bread not because of the price of crude oil on the oil market in Rotterdam but because the insane project of the jewish supremacist religious-political messianic utopia known as “communism” was responsible for exterminating tens of millions of the best farmers – peasants, as the enemies of that supremacist utopian project. After this terrible slaughter the agriculture on the lands of the Soviet Russia / Soviet Union had its back broken, the murdered tens of millions could not be replaced, the production fell and never ever recovered. It should not be forgotten as well that the deranged economic ideas of Marx had its sad role to play also in the management of the agriculture of the Soviet Union. They were responsible for what I would call a compounded damage to this sector of the economy.
     One cannot say that a country with enormous natural resources, including oil, and having a very fertile land to grow crops on cannot feed its people, having an economy that is not capable of producing basic !! consumer goods, a country that outlaws foreign travel for its citizens and outlaws many aspects of personal and civic freedom and thus creates a powder keg, one cannot say that all this is because the price of oil is low.
    The edifice of the so called communism fell because its chief architect was the Synagogue of Satan with the Masons in tow serving and contributing. A truly satanic enterprise and movement rose against Jesus Christ like a wave of darkness visible, then broke into pieces and fell.

  • JByrne24

    For information only:

    The comment about the (literally) odious animal was, as stated, taken from the Daily Telegraph (Sat.7 July edition).
    It appeared in Charles Moore’s (a former Editor of the Telegraph) half-page article. (He was discussing the argument in parliament of Friday last between George Osborne and Ed Balls).
    As with all metaphors and proverbs he did not mean that Mr Balls was a skunk – any more than a person to which “a rolling-stone [that] gathers no moss” is applied, is a stone.
    (Hence the Deo Gratias is no longer applicable.)

  • Brian

     Whoa!  Synagogue of Satan?  Jewish Nazism?  International Communist Jews?  Jewish Supremacist?  RED FLAG!  I’m reporting this post right away!

  • JByrne24

    Hello Stanley.  I think you must be teigitur posting under an alias.
    However the quality of argument has improved! Keep it up.

    PS: Carts should go in front of horses.
    PPS:People (well, not normal people) don’t eat oil.

  • Jonathan West

    You’re falling for the post hoc ergo proctor hoc logical fallacy. Catholicism or not, the Polish national liberation could not and would not have happened if Russian tanks had rolled into crush it, as they did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

    The question therefore is why those attempts at national liberation failed and why Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe were able to liberate themselves in 1989. The fact that the Pope was Polish doesn’t seem to have made much difference in terms of Poland being liberated first, all of Eastern Europe went at much the same time. If anything, Hungary led the way. It was in February 1989 that the communists there renounced their “leading role” and proposed a multi-party political system. In Poland, Solidarity wasn’t legalized until April of that year.

    The inevitable conclusion is that the liberation of all Eastern Europe from Communism had as its immediate cause the fact that Russia did not intervene militarily to suppress the national liberation movements. And that in turn happened because of the quid pro quo of the Western credits to Russia necessary to feed the population.

  • Suzy

    Hello, I am writing a book set in Poland in 1980, which I visited as a student, but I am trying to find out how Polish people would refer to the Pope in Polish. Would it be his holiness or John Paul?
    Can anyone help so I get the phrase right. Thanks,