This is an eye-witness account of the rise and fall of the independent, self-governing, free trades union Solidarity (Solidarnosc), which started in August 1980 and ended when Martial Law was declared 15 months later in December 1981.
'The Polish Revolution: Solidarity', was first published in 1983, and this updated edition was published 1999 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Collapse of Communism in Europe.
Nevertheless, it contains very few revisions, so that, for example, on page 343 the author states bleakly: "It is therefore probable that those tensions will not be reduced, and we shall, sooner or later, face a nuclear war."
This, indeed, is how the world looked in 1983. The old guard was still in the Kremlin. In the US, Ronald Reagan was rearming. And cruise missiles faced each other in Europe. So, just because a nuclear war didn't break out, doesn't mean that it couldn't have happened.
Moreover, two years earlier, it looked to many outside observers that the rise of Solidarity in Poland would not only herald a Soviet invasion, but might well spark off a nuclear war, too.
An appreciation of this chilling historical context adds dramatically to the tension of this gripping narrative, and to the bravery of almost everybody involved in the Solidarity movement - from Lech Walesa in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, to Czeslaw Opolski and his defiant colleagues in the Rzeszow Commune.
Timothy Garton Ash is a journalist and a historian, but in 'The Polish Revolution' he is also a participant because he writes about Solidarity from the Polish perspective; perhaps because he had recently married his Polish wife, but also because he sees Solidarity for what it is: a genuine attempt to win economic and political rights for the people of Poland. Meanwhile, on the outside, we only saw it as an episode in the cruel Cold War, as a conflict between East and West. It wasn't like that in Poland in 1980-81.
The amazing rise of Solidarity - by the following April 30% of the members of the ruling Communist Party had also joined its ranks - was due in no small measure to its electric organisation. Timothy Garton Ash describes this phenomenon as a 'telerevolution', because by using everything at hand - including telexes, faxes, phones and radio stations - lightning strikes could be swiftly declared and uniformally followed not only in Warsaw and Gdansk, but also in the remotest parts of the country.
Consequently, Solidarity was a truly national movement, but it was undermined by its failure to accept that it was in a state of war with the Communist authorities long before the official 'State of War' was declared on the night of December 13th, 1981. Crucially, it was completely unprepared for the imposition of Martial Law. Moreover, the army severed its nationwide communications in just a few hours, effectively isolating its members from each other, and also cutting off Solidarity from the world outside.
Back in 1983, it was difficult to predict a hopeful future for Poland - or for the world. But one of Timothy Garton Ash's predictions did come true. He said that the people of Poland would not forget Solidarity and that there would be another upheaval in Poland. Blessedly, he was there to report it, too.