Poland under pressure 1980-81 : crisis management in state-society conflict

Abstract: The primary purpose of this study is to describe and analyze the crisis management strategies used by Solidarity and state authorities during the Polish Crisis 1980-81. These key domestic actors adjusted their actions in response to the international context of the crisis. To capture this element, the study examines the strategies that were used by the Soviet Union and the United States. The study also has a secondary purpose, which is to contribute to the development of an improved framework for the analysis of multidimensional political crises that involve state, society and international actors.Crisis management involves great complexity. In trying to deal with this complexity, the dominant literature in the field relies on a rational actor paradigm that focus on individual decision-makers and leaves unexplored the impact of systemic features. Both because of the weaknesses of the assumptions inherent in a simple rational choice approach and because of the importance contextual (or systemic) factors, this study adapts Herbert Simon's concept of "bounded rationality" to the study of political crises.Empirically, the analysis of superpower interactions shows that the White House and the Kremlin closely monitored each other and the domestic actors, and that this influenced the behavior of domestic actors. This study also shows in detail that the state authorities predominantly acted in an incremental fashion on the basis of established policies and routines. In contrast, Solidarity was a "newborn" organization that initially operated on a trial- and-error basis. However, once the actions of the leadership had proven to be initially successful, they quickly institutionalized policies and routines. In essence, the Solidarity leadership employed a tactic of periodic mobilization within the over-arching strategy of self- limiting revolution. Initially this strategy was very successful. The authorities at first chose to accommodate Solidarity's actions with incremental concessions. However, as the crisis continued, the authorities switched to a strategy of omission and non-response. In that situation, Solidarity's leadership was unable to co-ordinate the numerous self-governing unions that were the basis of the movement. After that, the crisis turned into a no-win situation for all parties. The subsequent tendency towards political radicalization was more a manifestation of desperation than of reasoned political choice. This - together with the pressure asserted by the Soviet Union - led to a non-violent response to the actions of the Polish military, which ended the immediate crisis.This study suggests that management in a "risk-reducing mode" might be the most useful way to cope with national political crises. As exemplified by the Polish case, key actors involved in crisis management can benefit from a strategy of "slowing down" crisis dynamics whenever possible. This leads to the conclusion that future analyses of political crises ought to place more emphasis on examining strategies that can be used to reduce risk and uncertainty.

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