Intellectuals in search of a social movement: The political and strategic choices of KOR

Date of Completion

January 1996


History, European|Political Science, General|Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations|Sociology, Social Structure and Development




This investigation focuses on the role of intellectuals in social movement mobilization. The study analyzes the attempts of the Polish intellectuals who formed KOR (Social Self-Defense Committee "KOR") to create a broad-based social movement, and especially their efforts to mobilize workers prior to the August 1980 strikes that gave birth to the Solidarity trade union.^ Using a combination of approaches from social movement theory and communication research (e.g., quantitative content analysis of KOR's publication for workers, Robotnik), I found that movement mobilization is a multi-stage process greatly affected by the cultural backgrounds of its participants and the existing socio-political conditions. The cultural context is also important because it influences the communications among movement participants and the movement activists' chances to recruit new members. The success of movement mobilization depends on the communication process that constitutes the foundation of any organizing efforts. In fact, to a large extent, the process of mobilization is a process of communication.^ Moving beyond the dominant social movement theories I contend that political opportunities and resources alone cannot account for the emergence of a movement. KOR intellectuals' "cognitive liberation" (McAdam) was a combination of psychological states rooted in the nation's political culture, of a strategic insight that workers were indispensable for the movement's success, and of responses to competitive pressures. KOR had to overcome various cultural barriers to move beyond its own willingness to act (the first tier of movement mobilization) and mobilize followers and allies (the second tier). The group succeeded because it framed its goals in terms that emphasized the areas of agreement and common concern for intellectuals and workers, and did so more effectively than a rival organization. An oppositional coalition emerged and a reciprocal learning process developed between KOR and worker activists. The cooperation helped in the dissemination of workers' collective action experiences (consciousness). Independent publishing and indirect recruiting by worker activists signaled their expanded repertoires of action. The existence of the mutual political education process challenges the dominant explanations that credit alternatively only intellectuals or only workers for the emergence of Solidarity and other social movements. ^