Post-Industrial Revolution: The History Process

I've been thinking for a long time about how an event becomes part of history. I think it was probably inspired by a blog called 'The Awkward Interval' by Momus on his Click Opera blog a few years ago.

In that blog Momus talks about how in fashion/style/music/art, we mine the past, looking for objects and ideas to re-invigorate in the present. The recent past becomes an 'anxious interval', a place that has lost its novelty value but is not yet old enough to be retro. Here is the excellent diagram Momus created to illustrate his idea.

Ironically it was made in 2009, so the references are a bit out of date, i.e. the 80s (illustrated by Buggles in 'the goldmine' era) aren't the height of retro fashion anymore.

I'd like to push this idea a bit further, in order to think of this time line as a process of effecting paradigm shifts, as well as controlling trends.

Let's use the sections of Momus' diagram to track the history process of the 1980 Solidarność strike

The Present

When the strike was happening, it was important as an event with an undecided outcome. No one could know whether they would be successful, and no one knew what their possible success might eventually lead to. Apart from the Communist government (and perhaps a few strike leaders jostling for future positions of power), no one was thinking about the way the strike would be perceived as a historical event.

The Anxious Interval

After the fall of Communism, Solidarność doesn't just disappear, many of its big players make the move into politics. The most famous of these is Lech Wałęsa, President of Poland from 1990-1995. The scramble to turn Poland into a market economy involves privatising, and then shutting down the very shipyards from which Wałęsa came. A lot of people feel betrayed by the outcome of the events, and the success of the strike suddenly means something very different.

The Battleground

After Wałęsa goes, there comes the time when people are jostling over who owns the history of the strikes. Most people involved in politics at this time were somehow involved with Solidarność and the meaning of the strikes becomes a battleground - used to justify different ideas by different people.

The Goldmine

The beginning of the goldmine is probably Poland's full membership of the EU in 2004. It is a sort of vindication for all the pain of the switch over to a market economy. A European centre for Solidarity is established (currently building a huge new headquarters next door to the shipyard). 2005 is the date of a paper I have read about the 'Young City'. The Young city is the name of the proposed cultural regeneration of the shipyards. In the paper, the hypothetical future of the area is laid out - full of bustling consumer zones, cultural quarters and pedestrianized boulevards. It has, at the time of the paper's writing and (I think) the time of this blog's writing, no confirmed investors.

The Anxious Echo

I'd say that Poland may well be coming towards the end of the goldmine era. Having spent only three weeks here, I already feel totally overwhelmed by the volume of strike history. And not only by official history and plans for the city that reference the strike's history, but also by critical engagement with the strikes. I mean this in no bad way (as I'm involved in exactly the process I'm describing...) but Wyspa has exhibited a lot of work about the shipyards and the history of the strikes. It feels critiqued out. The more I talk to people about it, the more I realise that the history is saturated, it can't be used to support any more plans - political, economic or artistic.

The Historical Past

This hasn't happened to the strikes yet (if that makes sense...). It's a quieter place, and I'm not sure when the strikes will become part of it. Unlike the other eras, slipping into the historical past might be a slower process, and different people might find that it happens at different times for them. Talking about the strikes will become less contentious, and less relevant - because to talk about the strikes will not be a way of talking about the present.