This article presents three novel arguments regarding the role of civil society in the democratic transformation of Poland. First, under communism, associational life was neither extinct nor always totally controlled by the state. Over time, some organizations achieved a modicum of autonomy. The massive Solidarity movement left a legacy of civic engagement that influenced post-1989 developments. Second, inequality under state socialism needs to be treated comprehensively. While the level of income inequality was modest, economic inequality was more pronounced (privileges of the communist elites). Civic and political inequalities were acute. All three forms of inequality generated discontent and mobilization. Third, after 1989, civil society has become an institutional vehicle for virtually eliminating political inequality, advancing civic equality, and controlling the growth of economic inequality.