Over the past period, a conflict has been brewing between the Polish government and the European Union, manifesting itself in multiple incidents. For example, the recent refusal by the Polish authorities to deploy the EU’s Forex border guards during the crisis at the Polish border with Belarus, or the open threat to suspend funding to the EU, advanced by members of the Polish government. This led to retaliation from the EU, which threatened to withdraw COVID-19 related relief funding.
The Polish political scene has been likewise dominated by the topic of ‘Polexit’, i.e., Poland's potential exit from the European Union. Every day, the liberal media provides us with more gibberish and “disturbing news” claiming that the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) is planning to leave the EU, or in any case that this is where its policy will lead, whether that is leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski's intention or not.
This issue became another source of dispute between PiS and the liberal opposition. On one side of the barricade, the liberals yell and scaremonger that PiS will lead the country to leave the EU. On the other hand, the conservatives assure the public that such a scenario is impossible, while also shouting about not yielding to Brussels’ directives, insisting that Poland’s constitution always comes first etc.
Whatever PiS and the liberal-led opposition mean to accomplish by their present standoff with Brussels, they are playing a dangerous game. PiS has a history of manoeuvring successfully when it comes to conflicts with Europe, but on this occasion, they risk setting in motion events they will not be able to control.
Is there any chance that Poland will actually leave the EU? What is the significance of this whole dispute and what do liberals and conservatives want to get from it? And above all, most important - what does it mean for the Polish proletariat?
Conflict with Brussels
The subject of Polexit was raised by the media and the opposition in connection with the judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal, which found that some provisions of the Treaty on European Union, mainly related to the Polish judiciary, are “incompatible” with the Polish constitution. This verdict was issued because of an application addressed to the Constitutional Tribunal by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself.
The conflict is developing into a standoff over whether national constitutional rules of EU member states have priority over the ruling of the European Court of Justice, whose role is to act as a guardian of the consistency of the legal systems across the EU. The sweeping reform of the legal system introduced by the Polish government, and in particular the setting up of a Disciplinary Chamber at the Supreme Court “does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence, and, in particular, is not protected from the direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislature and executive", according to the European Court of Justice’s ruling back in July.
The introduction of the Disciplinary Chamber is a key part of the bid by the ruling PiS to achieve full control of the judiciary system. As a result of the Chamber’s rulings, over 600 judges have been barred from office and replaced by newly appointed judges. Any challenge to the role of the Chamber would jeopardise the dominant position achieved by the PiS. Although the Constitutional Tribunal has postponed its decision several times, the content of the judgment should not come as a surprise. Firstly, the judges of the Tribunal are mostly people whom PiS can trust. It is enough to recall that Krystyna Pawłowicz and Stanisław Piotrowicz - who have a long-standing connection with PiS - are members of its composition.
Furthermore, it is worth remembering that Law and Justice represents that wing of the Polish bourgeoisie, which is oriented more towards the interests of American rather than Western European, and especially German capital (which is represented by the liberals). The US and the EU do not necessarily have converging interests, especially at a time when the world economy is trending towards protectionism, tariffs and trade wars.
It is also not the first time that PiS has entered a “scuffle” with the European Commission. The conflict with the Czech Republic over a mine in Turów, resulting in the imposition of severe financial penalties on Poland, is still ongoing. Warsaw has repeatedly received reprimands from the EU for “violations of the rule of law”. As a reaction, PiS often used anti-Brussels rhetoric using expressions like the “bad leftist EU”. In conservative media and pro-PiS parlance, there is nothing more horrifying than calling someone ‘a leftist’.
The current dispute with Brussels is the aftermath of the PiS pseudo-reform of the judiciary, led by Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, which boils down to subordinating the courts to PiS. The subsequent stages of the conflict led us to the point where PiS decided to “wag a finger” at the European Commission, thus precipitating a fully fledged constitutional crisis at the very heart of the European Union.
Liberal opposition rallying in defence of “European democracy”
The European Union has responded in a way that suits it. It was reported that the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal “raises serious concerns” in connection with the conflict between Polish and EU law, stressing that any rulings of the Court of Justice of the EU have precedence. At the same time, it threatened to use all the tools at its disposal to protect the European rule of law.
It was a clear signal for the liberals to hit PiS. The Civic Platform (PO), led by former President of the European Council Donald Tusk, started a campaign aimed at mobilising its electorate and consisting of fueling the fear of Polexit. In addition, the liberal authorities think that fear of the Polexit will give them a chance to remove PiS from power. PO politicians present the situation as a domino effect, in which every move and consequent retaliation are to lead Poland to exit European structures while praising the Union and raising alarm for the disastrous consequences of leaving the EU. They pride themselves on the fact that “Poles are one of the most pro-EU societies in Europe”. In making such declarations, one can easily get the impression that this entire campaign is nothing but a calculated game against the ruling party.
Polls show that despite absolutely everything, after the announcement of the Constitutional Tribunal's verdict, many Poles believe that the scenario of Poland's exit from the European Union is realistic. 42.8 percent of the respondents believe that this is a real threat, which is an increase of approximately 13 percentage points compared to a previous survey, which took place a month before the verdict. Back then, those afraid of Polexit constituted less than 30 percent.
Clearly, we can see that the fear campaign is progressing, and thanks to this, the liberals managed to mobilise their electorate and get people on the streets, where they expressed their support for membership of the European Union. Demonstrations took place in larger cities in Poland. Their initiator was Donald Tusk. The Liberals are completely delusional, seeing themselves as a multitude standing up for ‘European values’, fed up with Kaczynski's ‘dictatorship’ and the threat of ‘fascism’. The reality, however, is different. The protests attracted no one but the old, tough electorate who so bravely stood up for “free courts” or “free media”.
However, the dispute over Polexit is evidence of the escalating conflict within the Polish bourgeoisie and between Poland's ruling class and its European protectors.
Who is winning and is PiS on the defensive?
It might seem that the liberals will soon be on the top again. One would imagine the Polexit campaign and the mobilisation of their electorate in the streets could have had such an effect. But is this really the case?
According to the United Surveys poll for RMF, FM and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, the United Right enjoys, the greatest support at 35.4 percent. The Civic Coalition stands at 27.1 percent, coming in second. The third place is taken by Szymon Hołownia's Poland 2050, at 9.5 percent.
So despite the slight change in the percentage difference between PiS and PO, the United Right are still in the lead. At the same time, the politicians of the United Right are trying at all costs to convince us that the Polexit scenario is unrealistic, and they are not pursuing it at all. The slogan is called fake news or a trick by the opposition, which is not far from the truth.
Morawiecki emphasises that similar procedures took place in other European countries, where certain issues went beyond the competencies of EU bodies. He also emphasised the essence of the rights of the European Union. It is worth adding that even EU bureaucrats are not convinced of the reality of Polexit. After the speeches of EU supporters on Polish streets, the EU commissioner Thierry Breton stated that there were no illusions that the Polexit scenario would come true.
There is no doubt that the dispute over the scope of EU and Polish law will continue, and it has the potential to escalate out of control regardless of the intentions of the main actors in the conflict. However, it will not end with a Polexit, due to the huge amount of money gained from the reconstruction fund for the Polish investment programme after the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU bureaucracy can easily block the plan, which will put PiS against the wall. Considering the current state of the Polish economy, the ruling camp has no choice. The conservative bourgeoisie is not short-sighted enough to give up European funds in the name of national ambitions. This is all a typical electoral game. The most likely scenario is that the whole situation will end with a compromise, in which European law will be respected, and PiS will come out of the dispute with a greater standing in the eyes of its voters as a defender of “Polish sovereignty”.
So, in this farcical dispute, PiS definitely wins. The party managed to keep its electorate and show its strength towards the European Union. The loser turns out to be the opposition camp. Despite the hype surrounding the Polexit, the mobilisation of the liberals attracted no one new, no outsiders, no one but its tried-and-tested electorate.
Liberals once again tried unsuccessfully to gain in the polls by opposing the PiS policy, and not by presenting their own demands. This shows that they have nothing to offer but sterile protest. Despite the deplorable economic situation in Poland, with such a pathetic and delusional opposition, PiS does not even have to make any effort to stay in power.
The deepening crisis facing the left wing and the Polish proletariat
There is no doubt that maintaining the status quo on the Polish political scene hurts the working class the most. The deepening crisis and the politics of conservatives is causing the cost of living to go higher and higher. The PiS, which in the past presented itself as the champion of welfare, is doing nothing to stop the spiral of price increases. Despite this, neither the liberals nor the United Left are gaining at their expense. How is this possible?
Undoubtedly, it is not PiS that is so strong, but the opposition is overwhelmingly weak. The reformist Left fares the worst here. Instead of connecting with the mood of the increasingly frustrated proletariat, it focuses on the political games between conservatives and liberals. In the disputes between PiS and PO, different wings of the ruling class, such as the fight for “free courts", “free media” or Polexit, the reformists have no independent voice and are losing ground. Currently, the Left only has 6.7 percent in the polls. This is in contrast to their electoral performance only two years ago, in 2019, when they achieved 12.56 percent. This is a very poor result considering that the formation consists of as many as three parties: Lewica (SLD), PPS and Razem.
The powerlessness of the reformists is evident, as they politically tail-end the bourgeois liberals. Such a position destroys this formation from the inside. The main party of the Left coalition, Lewica, centred around progressive liberals, has chosen a turn to the right. The faction centred around the leader Czarzasty cannot control the situation in the party. Additionally, Czarzasty uses undemocratic methods. Despite his good intentions, this may lead to an even stronger crisis of the party. Moving in this direction, the Left is simply and irrevocably doomed to failure.
Is there no way out of this situation?
Undoubtedly, the Polish proletariat exists in the deplorable situation of lacking an independent political voice, due to the failure of their reformist leaders. This, despite the historical result of the 2019 election, where a large platoon of leftist MPs was elected to Parliament. Condemned to a conflict between PiS and PO and the weakness of the reformist Left, workers remain passive. This is reflected in a survey on planned participation in elections. 53.5 percent of respondents declare their willingness to vote, while 38.9 percent would not even bother to take part in the election.
This does not mean that Polish workers are not ready to take action. The example of the strike of the employees of the Paroc Polska factory showed that the proletariat is still capable of being the driving force in society. The successful strike action inspired workers from nearby factories. The employees of the Jeremias company, together with the trade unions from Trzemeszno, began to cooperate in the struggle. In addition, more and more sections of the working class such as postal workers, nurses, teachers, and public sector employees are entering onto the warpath against the government. The Women's Strike also showed the possibilities and strength of mobilising the Polish masses. And then there was the tremendous teachers’ strike in 2019, which was tragically sold out by the trade union leaders. All this shows that the working class is willing to fight, despite the weakness of its current leadership.
We are on the verge of seeing the consciousness of Polish workers awaken. The only problem is the lack of a revolutionary organisation strong enough to connect with the mood developing among the youth and the working class, sink roots and build its forces in the coming period of mass struggles. Only an organisation of revolutionaries, based on Marxist theory and the experience of previous workers' movements, will be able to lead workers to fight for their rights, overthrow the current ruling class and establish their own state, based on true democracy, workers’ democracy. The challenge for the future is to build the foundations for such an organisation to fill the present political vacuum and create the conditions for future struggles to be victorious!