Beginning in 1958, Kania began to hold a series of increasingly important posts in the PUWP apparatus. In April 1971 he was appointed secretary of the Central Committee, after which he dealt chiefly with security, police, military affairs, and relations with the Catholic Church. On 6 September 1980 he became first secretary of the Central Committee, replacing Edward Gierek, who was blamed for the ongoing economic crisis and the outbreak of strikes and protests. A moderate who proposed compromise and cooperation with the Solidarity movement, in December 1980 and again in March 1981 Kania managed to convince Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev to resist using the Red Army or Warsaw Pact troops to quash the Solidarity trade union. In June 1981, Kania survived an attempted coup by communist hard-liners.
At the Tenth Extraordinary Congress of the PUWP (14–21 July 1981), Kania was once again elected first secretary as the centrist candidate. But three months later, on 17 October 1981, he was dismissed from his post at the Fourth Plenary assembly because of his inability to control Solidarity. General Wojciech Jaruzelski replaced him. In 1982 Kania became a member of the State Council, a rather inconsequential position that he held until 1985. He retired in 1989. In 1991 Kania published a memoir, along with Edward Gierek, in which he steadfastly defended his policies during 1980–1981.
MacEachin, Douglas J. US Intelligence and the Confrontation in Poland, 1980–1981. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.; Paczkowski, Andrzej. The Spring Will Be Ours: Poland and the Poles from Occupation to Freedom. State College: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.