Workers of Another World United by John Harmon McElroy


Workers of Another World United

A Personal Commemoration of Poland’s Solidarity 25 Years Later

The 1981 summer English Seminar in Poznan, Poland, had ended, and the twenty-six British and American instructors and the more than two hundred students had gathered for the farewell party. A young woman from one of my classes told me of John Paul II’s first visit to Poland as pope and the pilgrimage she and her classmates made to Czestochowa to worship with him at the shrine of their homeland’s holiest icon, “the Black Madonna,” at Jasna Gora.

“There we were with the Holy Father,” she said, “thousands of us, praying silently with him, and you could feel the power rising up through the trees.” From the way she said this, I knew that what she said was true, and that what she was describing was the power of the Holy Spirit, which in the summer of 1981 in Poland was as palpably present to me as the country’s tawny wheat fields, turbid rivers, and leafy woodlands.

In class, my students never spoke of religion. But there was something in the manner of a good many of them—a peacefulness of demeanor, a kindly way of addressing each other—that suggested the inner serenity of deeply held Christian beliefs. A couple of the instructors at the seminar called this “the Solidarity spirit.”

They were referring, of course, to the formative Christian spirit of the labor union the Poles called Solidarnos´c´ (“Solidarity” in English) that was also a national freedom movement whose general strike the previous summer (1980) had compelled the communist government of Poland to grant it legal status. Just a few months later, in December 1981, twenty-five years ago this month, the union would be outlawed and many of its leaders imprisoned.

But without the visit of John Paul II to Poland in 1979, there would have been no Solidarity in 1980. And without Solidarity in Poland in 1980, there would have been no disintegration of the Iron Curtain nine years later, no crumbling of the Soviet empire, and no dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991.

A Sustaining Spirit

Inevitably, in a nation so deeply imbued over the centuries with the teachings of Roman Catholicism, almost all of the workers who joined Solidarity were communicants of that religion. But it was the elevation of John Paul II to the papacy and the powerful sermons he preached during his visit to Poland in 1979, on the Christian concepts of the dignity of human beings as children of God and the dignity of labor, that gave this national labor union its uniquely Christian spirit of solidarity and dedication to the principles of nonviolence and truth-telling. This spirit and these principles proved to be the main sustaining strengths of the union.

My students patiently explained to me the connection between Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland and the founding of Solidarity. After the conclave of his fellow cardinals elected him head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1978, Karol Wojtyla naturally wanted to visit his beloved native country. And his countrymen wanted him to come. After all, it was no small matter in a country where 97 percent of the people professed Roman Catholicism that a Polish cardinal had become the first non-Italian pope in five hundred years.

The central committee of the Polish Communist party, however, did not share their fellow Poles’ happiness over Wojtyla’s election. Nor did they desire a papal visit. But popular sentiment for a visit was intense and widespread. If the party withheld permission, would that not look like weakness? Would that not seem like fear of one man and what he might do?

So permission was granted, with the proviso that the Catholic Church would have to organize the logistics for his travels in Poland without any help from the government. No state resources would be made available.

John Harmon McElroy is Professor Emeritus of the University of Arizona. As a Fulbright Professor of American Studies he taught at universities in Brazil and Spain. He is the author of Divided We Stand: The Rejection of American Culture Since the 1960s (Rowman & Littlefield), published earlier this year. He and his wife have four children and ten grandchildren. Because of his experience in Poland, he says, he has been a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church since 1983.

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!

personal subscriptions

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

RENEW your print/online

Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

RENEW your online subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!

RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.

more on communism from the online archives

19.10—December 2006

Workers of Another World United

A Personal Commemoration of Poland’s Solidarity 25 Years Later by John Harmon McElroy

28.5—Sept/Oct 2015

Cambodia's Anti-Exodus

Remembering Angka & the Idolatry of the Khmer Rouge 40 Years Later by Les Sillars

more from the online archives

23.5—September/October 2010

No Ado About Something

The Loss of a Christian Understanding of Virginity Is Pure Tragedy by Eleanor Bourg Donlon

25.6—Nov/Dec 2012

Clashing Symbols

The Loss of Aristotelian Logic & the Social, Moral & Sexual Consequences by Peter Kreeft

32.6—November/December 2019

Reformation Redux?

on Taking Heed of the Parallels Between the Crises of Yesterday & Today by Korey D. Maas

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone