The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power

The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland

By (author) Jan Kubik

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 April 1994

Length of book:

336 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271010847

The authority of Polish communists in 1944–1945 was usurpatory; it was not given to them by the Polish people. Nor was the power they held the result of their own actions; they were installed as the country's rulers by the Soviet army. Yet Polish Communists set out to produce credible claims to authority and legitimacy for their power by reshaping the nation's culture and traditions.

Jan Kubik begins his study by demonstrating how the strategy for remodeling the national culture was implemented through extensive use of public ceremonies and displays of symbols by the Gierek regime (1970–1980). He then reconstructs the emergence of the Catholic Church and the organized opposition as viable counter-hegemonic subcultures. Their growing strength opened the way for counter-hegemonic politics, the delegitimization of the regime, the rise of Solidarity, and the collapse of communism.

He is not studying politics per se, but rather culture and the subtle and indirect ways power is realized within it, often outside of traditionally defined politics. Kubik's approach, which draws heavily on modern anthropological theory, helps explain why Solidarity happened in Poland and not elsewhere in the Communist bloc.

“Jan Kubik brings a sophisticated anthropological and cultural-studies perspective to this important study of Poland in the waning years of communist rule. He stresses the central role of symbolism and discourse in the maintenance and construction of political power. This is a powerful paradigm and one that I think will attract even more attention in the East European context in future years as new social-political systems are constructed and as new ideologies replace the old.”

—David I. Kertzer, Brown University