Subversive Orthodoxy – Larry Inchausti

The Story of Lech Walesa 

Vivian Wright: Subversive Orthodoxy, you heard from Angeles the necessity of that, for the survival and evolution of community and ourselves. So Larry is going to help us think about, in a way that comes from his work –  What that is, and to tell a story, and then we get to play with that story.

Larry Inchausti: The task falls on me to explain “Subversive Orthodoxy,” because I use that as a title to this book that I wrote about 20th century figures who had the courage of their strangeness and gave back to their communities by being non-conformists and following a different path. Ward took the title of that and turned it into a whole mythology (laughter). So now “Subversive Orthodoxy” is not just the name that I gave to… I don’t know ten or fifteen 20th century heroes, but it’s also thanks to Ward, the name for an entire paradoxical relationship to community where the very thing that makes you valuable is your strangeness, and your willingness to share that. So we were talking about how to best talk about this and in my book I have so – I have models of great subversive orthodox people in the 20th century because it turns out the 20th century is the century of subversive orthodox. Basically by that I mean that people that come out of great traditions but carry those traditions into the 20th century in unique and unexpected ways. For example, probably the most famous – Or one that we would know about here at Mount Madonna, is Gandhi using the Bagavdagita as a tool for political revolution.

Larry Inchausti
Larry Inchausti

He’s got a chapter in my book, and one of the quotes from one of his followers summarizes a little bit of ‘Subversive Orthodoxy’ when they – They ask one of his followers what it was about Gandhi that made him a more attractive leader than the socialist alternative who were more politically connected and had greater military threat. One of them said “Well he’s given us a way of fighting without becoming like our enemy.” And I’m sure Angeles is going to talk about this, projection and how do you stand for what you stand for without making an enemy of the person that is causing you difficulty.

But the one that I wanted to talk about today because his story is more fun and we want to have fun in the afternoon. It is also the most outrageous in some ways, Lech Walesa of the Polish Solidarity movement and he became President of Poland and – of the first non-communist government in Poland and essentially was the architect of the end of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. Now what makes him so interesting is that Lech Walesa in nobody’s imagination had the authority to become leader of Solidarity or leader of Poland, in fact he had a 9th grade education. He was an electrician so his training was entirely vocational. He worked at the Gdańsk Shipyards as an electrician, and he really didn’t have much political sophistication except for the fact that he knew when he was getting screwed. This turns out to be an incredible important trait for the group, to have somebody who is willing to say: “We are getting screwed! And I am willing to fight for it!” Now this is the way.

I love this story because this is the way Lech Walesa got elected to President of the Solidarity Union. They had a meeting, like millions of meetings where the communist management of the Gdańsk Shipyard was at a little table, and then they had representatives of the union from the various shops sitting at another table across from them. So Walesa was a 28-year old electrician representing the electricians right? And so they start the usual song and dance about you know “We would really like to give you increase salaries but you know we’ve got to cut back, and the west is putting all this pressure on us and you’re just falling into the hands of the western agitators and don’t you see you really – For the good of the country you should really not press us for increased wages.” At which point Walesa says “I have something to say.” And they say “Lech, what do you have to say?” He says “I don’t mind when you lie to me in the newspapers, I accept that and you lie to me on television, because you control the television, but you don’t lie to me to my face.” And he, Lech leaps across the table and tries to hit the guy in the mouth, which is not very Gandhiesque (Laughter). And they pull him off and he’s you know “Don’t lie to me.” And everybody in the room said: “That’s our next president.”

It wasn’t because he was sophisticated; it was because he had something that the room needed. Now after he got elected President – This is another little funny thing, the head economists of the Solidarity Union came to him and said “Lech, you know you have a 9th grade education, you are an electrician, I think maybe you should step down and maybe let one of us who know how to handle politics take over the Solidarity.” And Walesa says: “Well you never helped us for the past 20 years, why should I trust you to help us now?” And they said: “Well because you don’t know anything.” And he goes: “Well I’m President of the union.” (Laughter) So they said: “Well what’s your plan?” and he says: “Well I’ll figure it out.” So his plan – He was a very religious guy, which is another thing that – Which is a lot of these plebian figures of subversive orthodoxy like Gandhi have their connections with indigenous traditions and orthodox traditions. So he would go to the negotiation meetings, and then when there was a break the communist would go to strategy meetings and Walesa would go to church, and he would meditate and pray for the 30 minutes that they were having the strategy meeting, and then he would come back with these cockamamie ideas that he got when he was praying that they didn’t know how to deal with. So he – His friend told him: “You know Lech, you are going to need something, a plan, something because you can’t just be, you know ad-libbing it after what the Virgin Mary tells you what to do.” (Laughter) He says: “Okay, well how about this, I’m not going to give in – I’m not going to sign any contract until we get a 6% pay increase across the board.” And they said: “You’ll never get a 6% pay increase.” He goes: “Well okay, that’s good negotiation, and I’ll just hang in there.”

So day in and day out they are negotiating and Walesa 6% says: “You got 6% here.” They say: “Oh, we can’t go that high Lech you know…” Meanwhile every other union in the country is going out on strike in solidarity with the ship union. So the entire country has been shut down because Walesa is holding down to the 6%. So the head of the Communists figures it out and goes: “You know, this guy, he’s been telling us all along he only wants 6%, if we can break solidarity union, GIVE the guy 6% you know? It’s no big deal! We’ll co-opt him, we’ll take back the country and the communists will be more in control.” So Walesa goes into the meeting after lunch and the communist guy says: “Lech you’re a tough bargainer, you know you are really tough, were going to give you the 6%.” And he says: “Okay, well that’s everyone at the shipyard?” He goes: “Yeah everyone at the shipyard gets 6%.” So he goes: Victory.

So he goes out – Everybody, the whole country is sort of watching this and they are like on, you know fences and what was the result of that negotiation. So Walesa comes out and he goes: “6% across the board!” The crowd then says: “6%?” We had a revolution, we were going to over throw the government and you sold out the revolution for a 6% pay increase?” Walesa says: “Well yeah that was my plan, 6%.” Then the boo’s start, “Traitor” “Walesa-Traitor!” So he’s looking around and they are going “BOOO! Did you sign it?” He goes: “Yeah I signed the agreement.” And the boo’s continue, and then he had one of those great plebian or subversive orthodox moments; he says – And this is something that somebody without – That had more than a 9th grade education probably wouldn’t have done. He said: “I made a mistake, I blew it!” He rips up the contract and says: “The strike is on! We’re going to continue to strike until there is a revolution in the country, I’m sorry, I blew it.” And then everyone is saying: “Walesa you’re a hero!” So then they fire him from the shipyard so he can’t officially be a union representative because he is no longer working for the shipyard, and so the next day when they were shutting down the plant again for a nationwide strike, he leaps over the fence and they make him an honorary member of the union. Ultimately they shut down the government and he becomes President and makes a thousand and one mistakes; but he able to do something that nobody else could do. It was his moment, and it was his time, and his place. The authenticity of his anger was something that the intellectuals couldn’t have provided.

Vivian Wright: “He didn’t even talk properly did he?”

Larry Inchausti: Oh and that’s the other thing you wanted me to mention is when he became President a lot of people in Poland were upset because in his public address he would use four letter words. (Laughter) They said it is very embarrassing to Poland to have a President who is saying those fuckers are not going to screw us around anymore. (Laughter) He is – You know he is a 20th century icon, now he has had his problems since then but that’s the way the people’s revolution moves.

One other thing and we’ll get back to our question, but Elie Wiesel who was also in my book, who won a Nobel Peace Prize wrote “Night”, he was a concentration camp survivor. He said that if you wanted to understand the 20th century and politics and our current state of why we have to be subversive orthodox: Not subversives, they’re a dime a dozen, not orthodox. We’ve got enough conformists to keep the trains running on time. The people that bring their uniqueness and non-conformity to the table rather than just hide it away in a blog for deviance or something, I don’t know. (Laughter) He said that what happened with western civilization was about 250 years ago, western man made a deal with God and said to God: “God I don’t really understand you, I don’t really know what your plan is for the universe, could you let me be God for one second? Just so I can understand what you are going through.” God said: “Well you know I would do that except that once I make you God, there is no guarantee that you will switch back, because you will be the guy that is in control, and I’ll be out.”

So the man said: “No, I promise this is just instructional, I am just doing this as a kind of experiment to find out what you are experiencing and I promise you that I will switch back immediately when I have that insight.” So God, in his stupidity says: “Okay, let’s make the trade.” So they made the trade around 1732 or something and western man never trades back. Since that time, God has become man, and man has become God. He says – And over the last 50 years or so, since WWII both sides are getting uncomfortable with the relationship. (Laughter) And we’re getting ready to negotiate a new deal. We are tired of being gods, and he’s tired of being human.

Since we started with a Rabbi and ended with the Holocaust survivor, I’ll end my little presentation with Kafka because Kafka is another great subversive orthodox because here is a guy who is writing works that may never get published, in a tradition that seems to be disappearing and what keeps him going? So there’s this little book called “Conversations with Kafka” written by a student, 18 years old, who visits Kafka on Friday, because his dad works with him in the insurance company and after Kafka became famous he wrote his memories about all these conversations that he had with Kafka. Of course the academics find this a dubious document because how could anyone remember word for word – But you read these conversations and you think: “My god, that’s Kafka.” So there’s one, and I’ll end with this because I think it’s really great description – Why we have to be subversive orthodox, well not we have to be, but why we are subversive orthodox. There’s a communist rally taking place outside Kafka’s office at the accident insurance company and the student says to Kafka: “You are a critic of the modern world, why aren’t you out there with the communists advocating for revolution?” And Kafka says to him: “That’s the problem with the modern world, everything goes by false names. They call themselves revolutionaries, they are really totalitarians. The capitalists call themselves free marketers, they are really monopolists. They say I have a great job, working here for the accident insurance company; it’s a form of penal servitude. Tonight I am going to go home to my apartment, have dinner and do a little writing; no, tonight I’m going home to my prison cell lock myself in and try to find my soul.”

Now how many names do we give to what we do? I mean how many heroic actions do we call un-heroic deeds. And it just takes somebody like Kafka to re-describe it for us. Or Lech Walesa who says: “You don’t have to take the bullshit.” Then we all recognize it and it’s like – You know they don’t have to be our leader, they could be badly dressed they just have to be in the community right? Once they say it, we say: “Damn. He’s right on that one! (Laughter) I really don’t like his use of language but you know he knows what’s going on politically.” So that’s my version of Subversive Orthodoxy and I think Vivian has a question about our Subversive Orthodoxy…

Vivian Wright: Oh my god that was so good. After cookies that was just like hit the spot. So what we are thinking of doing know is getting into some small groups and exploring with one another what is that wild hair in you that needs to speak truth to power. Whatever it is, however small… and I’d love for you to add to the question, but the question that we were thinking of is: “What feels subversive that is being called for…”

Larry Inchausti: “That you are a little bit hesitant to contribute because it seems too strange like let’s have a war and not kill anybody, let’s have a revolution and let’s have it based on love and… you know these – Or Martin Luther King was another character in my book and his great innovation was: “Lets love Jesus and not be white supremacists.” (Laughter)

Vivian Wright: So in the spirit of my so called democratic facilitation style which is really totalitarian (Laugher) Who would like a minute to just like – A minute or two of journaling before you get into small groups to answer this question… Raise your hand. Okay, just so you know it is a totalitarian facilitation style. Let’s take a couple of minutes with some – And Devin would you provide us with some background music? What in you feels subversive? That you feel a little uncomfortable about bringing forward in your community?