A New Evolutionism
Adam Michnik is among the most influential figures in Poland. Part of the Communist Party in Poland in the 1960s, he was persecuted for his Jewish origins in 1968, and subsequently became part of the dissident movement for political change. In 1976, he was among the founding members of the Committee for the Defense of Workers (Komitet Obrony Robotników), which focused on providing assistance to prisoners detained after a series of labor strikes. He was imprisoned in 1977 for this activity. He wrote "A New Evolutionism" in 1976, which laid out his vision for how a successful workers' political movement against the Communists could emerge. In many ways, his essay describes both the emergence of the Committee for the Defense of Workers, as well as the later Solidarity movement, of which he also was a part.
Adam Michnik, "The New Evolutionism 1986," Letters from Prison and Other Essays, trans. Maya Latynski (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
Primary Source—Full Text
"New evolutionism" is based on faith in the power of the working class, which, with a steady and unyielding stand, has on several occasions forced the government to make spectacular concessions. It is difficult to foresee developments in the working class, but there is no question that the power elite fears this social group most. Pressure from the working classes is a necessary condition for the evolution of public life toward a democracy.
This evolution is not easy to chart; it requires that fear be constantly overcome and that a new political consciousness be developed. Factors that retard this process include the absence of authentic workers' institutions and of models and traditions for political resistance. The day the first independent organization of workers' self-defense was founded, when the strike committees in the shipyards of Szczecin and Gdansk were formed, a new stage in worker consciousness began. It is hard to tell when and how other, more permanent institutions representing the interests of workers will be created and what form they will have. Will they be workers' committees following the Spanish model, or independent labor unions, or mutual aid societies? But when such institutions emerge, the vision of a new evolutionism will become more than just a creation of a mind in search of hope.
The new evolutionism aims at gradual and slow change. But this does not mean that the movement for change will always be peaceful - that it will not require sacrifices and casualties. In the past, this movement partially consisted of mass actions by workers and students - and this may continue into the future....