Why I will Not Vote for Lech Walesa Charisma Must Give Way to Legal Institutions

Adam Michnik

November 24, 1990|By Adam Michnik

WARSAW — Warsaw.---LECH WALESA wants to be president, and I do not blame him for this ambition. It worries me, however, that he wants to be an ''ax-wielding'' president who rules by decree and who likens democracy to a driver's control over a car. ''Now that we are changing the system, we need a president with an ax: a firm, shrewd and simple man, who does not beat around the bush.'' These are Mr. Walesa's words.

What worries me more than his words, however, is the way he treats Solidarity as an instrument for the fulfillment of his personal ambitions. It is also the confidence with which he announces that he will win at least 80 percent of the votes in the compulsory, open election that he demands. And his threats of a street revolt. It also worries me that he always speaks about himself, and never mentions his program. In conclusion: It

worries me that Mr. Walesa will use any means to get into the Belvedere Palace.

As Solidarity chairman, he has proposed no program for the trade union in periods of austerity. For the last year, we have not heard a single word from Mr. Walesa on the union's role or activity in the process of transition to a market economy, on methods for defending the interests of the working class, or on ways to deal with unemployment.

Instead, we have repeatedly been told that Solidarity had to split. Eventually, Mr. Walesa came and split it. He got rid of all those capable of opposing him and barring his way. In order to remove them, he considered it useful to describe them publicly as ''eggheads'' and ''Jews.''

Mr. Walesa has always been a charismatic leader who would not respect a statute or a program, acting as if he did not understand the rules of democratic procedures. In August 1980, his ignorance was justified. Later, during martial law, Mr. Walesa decided that he did not need any understanding of those procedures. It may have been this decision, and his charisma, that made Mr. Walesa such a good leader during that period.

What is the nature of charismatic power? Charisma is the ability to control people's emotions. Emotional subordination and the acknowledgement of a leader's special abilities and talents create a special relationship between the leader and the ordinary man. The ordinary man's blind trust in his leader makes him obedient. In the ordinary man's opinion, the leader knows best what to do in any situation. The leader's power is subject to no restrictions or regulations. His qualifications and competence become unimportant. So does the law. What becomes important are the random decisions of the charismatic leader.

This leader emerges from the void of a destroyed political stage, marked by the lack of, or the sudden surge of, hope; he is the result of a collective dream and of the desire for a new myth. He may be a prophet, a popular leader, or a street demagogue. He epitomizes the myth of the just, invincible leader. He evokes admiration and awe.

Charismatic authority is inherent in the most revolutionary historical processes: It helps to overcome fear and apathy, to destroy traditional order and to overthrow old governments, whether monarchies or foreign occupations. Once victorious, this authority becomes domineering and anti-democratic; it towers above the people. Born of collective hope for a free, dignified life, it leads toward a new dictatorship. The faith in the charismatic leader's infallibility becomes the subjects' duty. The leader and his team demand that the faith be completed with voluntary acts of submission. A refusal to perform them is subsequently treated as a felony, a crime, as high treason.

This is when a charismatic authority begins to wane. Such a leader, endowed with ''divine grace,'' proves unable to work wonders. But it is too late for the people to change anything: The leader has lost his charisma, but has kept the police. His team, chosen on the principle of obedience, rather than for professional qualifications, will not hesitate to use force to defend its power. The history of revolutions confirms this pattern, from Cromwell, through Lenin, down to Khomeini.

A victorious charismatic leader becomes pathologically jealous of his power and popularity. He becomes suspicious, sensing enemies and plots all around himself. In order to get rid of rivals, that is, of ordinary democratic mechanisms, he will promise anything to anyone. He will not discuss political programs: He himself becomes his own program. He always talks about himself, his merits and congenial achievements, describing his plans in the most scant and general terms. He promises acceleration: fast improvement for everyone.

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