Crisis of the Polish right

The collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe created a peculiar political situation, which is not easily understood from outside. Stalinism discredited the very idea of socialism, but what has replaced is a rather crude bourgeois political set up. However, below the surface, things are moving on. In Poland, where right-wing Christian views seem to dominate the scene, a crisis is brewing.

Introduction by Wojciech Figiel

Many people on the left outside Poland find it difficult to follow the situation in this East European country. This is because of the extremely complicated character of the processes that have taken place here. In order to understand the roots of the present-day crisis, which is described in the article below by Agata Rozenberg (a 16-year old Marxist from Torun, Poland) we have to go back to 1989.

After the defeat of the Solidarity movement of 1980-81 and restoration of capitalism in 1989, a period of apathy followed. People thought that it was not worth struggling for a better society. After all, workers would think, we fought in 1980-81 and what did we get?

On the other hand the new ruling elite of Poland was not able to consolidate itself. It took them ten years and they needed a lot of help from the ex-Stalinist party, the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej - SLD), to start to introduce a real onslaught on the workers' rights and welfare system built during the 1944-89 period. The SLD leaders joined in this attack with delight and by doing so decimated their party from 160,000 members in 1999 to 40,000 members now.

Under these difficult circumstances workers were trying different parties and none of them fulfilled their expectations. Therefore at each election, fewer and fewer voters turned out and the results were more and more polarised.

The last elections in 2005 were won by the extreme right Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwos'c' - PiS) of Jaroslaw Kaczynski. As Agata explains, they won because they promised to break with neo-liberal capitalism.

However, when in power they immediately revealed their true colours and started to make cuts and attack workers. As Agata points out, the PiS leaders were able, "in the absence of any significant opposition - to transform many areas of Polish political life." The almost complete ban on abortion was to be just another step forward in this direction.

But then came the surprise; the parliament rejected the proposal on the grounds that it was "too soft". That Kaczynski & Co. did not get through with their proposals was nothing new, but this time the crisis that erupted was so big that a split in PiS occurred. Now, PiS is facing a defeat on all fronts.

They were not able to push through the lustration law, that in practice made it impossible for anybody who had anything to do with the Polish Peoples' Republic to participate in political, public and academic life. And now comes the health service strike (about which we will publish a separate article), the teachers' movement against the Minister of Education, the railwaymen's protests and so on...

It seems that the government may last for some time, but nonetheless the mood is changing. With its peculiar problems, the Polish workers' movement is trying to adopt a more militant stance. To intervene and bring this growing mood of anger and militancy to its final conclusion is a task for the Left. Polish Marxists are intervening with their ideas in this new movement and are making big steps forward.

Crisis on the Polish Right - An Opportunity for the Left

By Agata Rozenberg, April 17, 2007

The moral revolution is rotting from within. The civilisation of death has won another battle against the civilisation of life. Satan is alive and well in the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) where he has led yet more souls astray!

Such have been the amazing discoveries made over recent days by the right-wing Polish media. Put in rational terms, the Polish Sejm rejected constitutional amendments which officially aimed to guarantee "the right to life from conception to natural death", and which in practice would have led to a complete ban on abortion in Poland. To ensure the Sejm's anti-abortion vote, the ruling Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwos'c' - PiS) deployed its usual social engineering techniques and red herring issues with the skill and determination for which it is renowned. For a time even the crusade against "the remnants of communism" was put on the backburner. Happily for the women of Poland all of these manoeuvres were to no avail and PiS failed to secure the required two-thirds majority.

No doubt this victory does not signify the end of the struggle between rationality and right-wing extremism, but it is worthy of particular notice because for the first time cracks have begun to show in the monolithic facade of PiS. The leaders of the moral revolution (that is of PiS) did not speak with one voice. Even threats from party leader and Prime Minister Jaros?aw Kaczyn'ski were not enough to prevent some PiS MPs from rebelling against the party line. These people claimed that the voted law was still "too soft". Following the defeat, Speaker of the Sejm, Marek Jurek, left PiS followed by four other radicals for whom the "protection of life from conception" is the most important issue facing this government. They have already registered their own party with Marek Jurek as leader, and are seeking further defectors to join their parliamentary group, apparently with some success.

The fact that the political profile of this new party, grandly entitled "The Right", differs little from the existing right-wing Catholic parties in Poland does not seem to bother its leader who up until now has been a faithful follower of the Kaczyn'ski brothers. According to Marek Jurek his party will be the only one to fulfil the four litmus tests of a "genuine right-wing" party: Catholicism, patriotism, a conservative worldview and support for individual freedom

From this it is obvious that the new party will follow the ultra-conservative political standards of the Polish right including slavish support for the Catholic Church, together with the promotion of nationalist megalomania and hypocrisy. Jurek has also accused his old party of lacking internal democracy, which is hardly a revelation and anyway sounds somewhat strange coming from a man who only became candidate for Speaker due to the undemocratic regime within PiS. Throughout his term he never voiced any objections to being Kaczyn'ski's tool in the Sejm. And now he is talking dramatically about "violation of conscience" and claiming that MPs were pressured into voting against the "protection of life". But the very next moment he adds that his party will be willing to be part of the ruling coalition since PiS's program is perfectly good. On the lips of the would-be leading moralist of the Polish right this is confusing. If the program is good what was the point of unleashing the orgy of mudslinging in the media? Could it be that the position of Speaker of the Sejm was not enough for him?

For the left, this split is very important. Up until now the strength of the Catholic-nationalist right in Poland has been its relative unity especially after the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin - LPR) joined the coalition government. A parliamentary majority combined with a disciplined and fanatical electorate, always sure of who to vote for, and manipulative skills second to none, has allowed PiS and its coalition partners - in the absence of any significant opposition - to transform many areas of Polish political life.

The loyalty of PiS voters, who represent not more than 15 per cent of the society, has been an important factor in this. But during the Sejm debate concerning the constitutional amendments it became clear that the unity of the right will not last forever. The chaos that arose over different versions of these amendments proposed by various groups showed that particular party interests play at least as important a role in these circles as their frequently mentioned Christian values.

For the leaders of LPR the struggle against their ongoing marginalisation turned out to be more important than the moral considerations to which they appeal at every opportunity. Marek Jurek's split fits into the same picture, but is based even more on pure party political manoeuvring than LPR's actions. It is possible to point to certain programmatic differences between LPR and PiS, but, as previously mentioned, even the founders of Jurek's party admit that not much separates them from the Kaczyn'ski brothers.

Add to all this the existence of the Polish National Movement (Ruch Ludowo-Narodowy), and we get a picture of a right wing that seems to have forgotten the principle that splits impact negatively especially when over personal issues, and is returning to its old ways of small groups engaged in internecine warfare.

Well, not the whole right wing. Jaros?aw Kaczyn'ski says that he is ready to forgive the secessionists - predictably giving religious reasons for his offer. After all, their return would be better than having to organise much speculated over early elections, which despite the arrogant assurances of PiS leaders might not go well for them. As we now know, Jurek has rejected this offer and wants rather to collaborate with PiS as his new party's "natural partner". Won't this be a violation of his conscience? Apparently not. The morality of a true Polish Catholic moves in mysterious ways.

And so there has been a halt in the conservatives' moral revolution. Admittedly the current splits do not mean that all the reform ambitions of PiS will immediately collapse, but this could be the beginning of a process in which the conservative camp splinters into small groupings, with each one claiming to possess the one true doctrine.

The task of the left is to take proper advantage of this process. It is not true that Polish society is exclusively right-wing, indifferent to issues of social justice. It needs to be underlined that the main slogans of the Kaczyn'ski brothers' election campaigns and the ones that voters found most attractive were primarily egalitarian, relating to improving the lives of average working people (decent housing, healthcare etc.) - hardly compatible with the essential conservative vision of a hierarchical society.

Now when the energy of PiS is being absorbed in arguments over history and obsessive McCarthyite witch-hunts, the left has a great opportunity to demonstrate that it is possible to stand on the side of working people, the unemployed, the sick and the needy without the baggage of clericalism and witch-hunts. The increasingly arrogant statements by leading members of PiS and mounting personal conflicts are preparing the ground for the work of the future Polish left. I say future left because it is hard to imagine the left in Poland in its current form doing anything to counteract the actions of the Catholic nationalists. But if today's left really does care about the rights of Polish workers, and if it really does want to create a truly just society in Poland, then it has to answer the proposals of the right with its own alternatives. We have been confronted by so many absurd ideas put forward by PiS and its allies - the time has come to take advantage of the slowly improving political climate and answer their absurdities with a consistent vision of a socialist Poland.

We want to build a truly egalitarian society in Poland, in which there are no excluded people, and where work is valued and is justly rewarded. We demand that economic growth is accompanied by social development, and that the profits from the country's economic progress are distributed first and foremost to those whose labour has caused that progress. We want a country whose citizens can make their own decisions about their future without religious brainwashing and neo-liberal propaganda. We protest against the wasting of public money on oil wars and Poland's servile obedience to our American "ally". We want genuine solidarity, we want a Poland without exploitation. That is what we will fight for.