Polish Elections 2005: Shift to the right in the polls, shift to the left on the streets

Parliamentary elections took place in Poland on September 25. The victory of the right wing is a direct consequence of the pro-capitalist policies of the outgoing Democratic Left Alliance government. The vote is against those policies rather than for the right wing.

Parliamentary elections took place in Poland on September 25. The unquestionable winners were the right-wing parties Law and Justice and Civic Platform who received 27 and 24 per cent of the votes respectively. While it is true that the victory of the right does signify a certain conservative shift in Polish society, nevertheless what must be pointed out is that elections, in general, are a reflection of the stages that society has passed through rather than an indication of what will come in the future. The victory of the right certainly does not mean a vote of confidence in the capitalist system. It is only yet another expression of the impasse of capitalism not only in Poland, but all over the world and the general discontent with the political and economic system - particularly with the vicious right-wing policies of the right-wing leadership of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance. People voted for the right wing or did not vote at all in order to punish the left for its very liberal policies and not because they are in favour of them.

Low turnout at the polls

The most striking feature of these elections was the very low turnout. Only 40 per cent of those eligible bothered to go to the polls last Sunday. Since 1989, Polish elections, to put it euphemistically, have not been characterised by exceptionally high turnouts, but it is only this time that the psychological barrier of 40 per cent has been reached. And this was in spite of the wholesale propaganda on the part of the government, the president, the media, the church and virtually everybody from the establishment who all explained that the most important duty of every citizen is to vote. It can be clearly seen that the ruling class defends what is already a dead body, i.e. their own system. For the same reasons right after the elections all the sociologists and media commentators were united in explaining that “Polish society does not posses political culture”, “society is ignorant and irresponsible” and so on and so forth. Some of them even reached a peak by saying that “60 per cent of our society preferred to take coffee and go to their dachas and have a barbecue”, as if 60 per cent of society had dachas!

With an unemployment rate of more than 20 per cent and 5 million human beings living on less than 2 euros per day, people understand very clearly that the corrupt and rich ruling elite cannot offer them any way forward. That is why they instinctively reject the whole electoral process and do not even bother to go and cast their vote. A crushing comment on the rottenness of bourgeois formal democracy is that on Sunday evening more people watched the European volleyball finals won by the Polish team than the results of the elections.

Civic Platform and Law and Justice

In spite of this obvious vote of no confidence in the whole system, the two right-wing parties that won seem to think that they will enjoy stability and can proceed to realise their right-wing austerity policies. Evidently, this will not be the case. The liberal-conservative coalition will soon suffer crisis and splits. In fact, even now we can see the first symptoms of this, such as the controversy over the new Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. In the last few days the whole idea of a Civic Platform – Law and Justice coalition has been questioned by their leaders, although it is very unlikely that Law and Justice could separately form a government.

The economic solutions of those two parties can be reduced to vicious right-wing policies, including some mad ideas such as a flat tax of 15 per cent and the merging of the Education, Healthcare, Labour and Social Security Ministries into one super-ministry in order to “tighten the budget of the public administration”.

If they think that they will be able pursue such an agenda with ease and without any protests they are either idiots or out of touch with the reality - or both! In fact the glimpse of what is to come was seen in Warsaw back in June when one of the leaders of Law and Justice party, who is the Mayor of Warsaw (not to mention the brother of Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and a presidential candidate in next month’s vote) banned the Gay Pride march. This immediately triggered widespread opposition and, despite being illegal, some 7,000 people appeared at the march chanting slogans not only in favour of rights for sexual minorities but also clearly against the right-wing mayor and his policies. And all this only two months after the death of the ultra-conservative Polish pope!

Growing instability

Thus, in the situation as it is now, even a small and apparently “insignificant” incident can trigger a mass movement against the right wing. This flows from the general instability of capitalism on a world scale and in particular in Poland. The situation of Polish capitalism, despite continuous GDP growth, is already very volatile with high unemployment and the artificially high value of the Polish zloty. Any small crisis in the EU or Russia will be felt ten times stronger in Poland.

This instability is also reflected in the general crisis of the whole political system and particularly in the parties of the ruling class. Not a single party has managed to secure victory in two consecutive parliamentary elections in the last 16 years. The parties of the ruling class change colours like a kaleidoscope. It is thus not difficult to predict that the two main right-wing parties at the end of the day will end up splitting into at least four different groups. Regular splits have become a tradition of the Polish right wing. In fact the only relatively stable party is the DLA.

Illusions in the “Polish road to capitalism” as a way out

A considerable percentage of the vote was secured by the two parties supported by the sectors of the ruling class that have not won political power in the last 16 years and now spread illusions about building Polish capitalism without “foreigners”. One of those parties is the vicious right-wing, ultra-catholic and conservative Polish Families’ League, the other being the Self-Defence Party that now demagogically presents itself as “the only left-wing party”. Clearly there cannot be any Polish capitalism, which in fact the example of those two parties proves. Both parties were against the European Union but now, when they have MPs and nice offices in Brussels, they somehow abandoned the slogan of quitting the EU. In fact, now the leader of Self-Defence has gone as far as to offer his support for the Law and Justice and Polish Families’ League coalition!

Nevertheless, what has to be understood is that the almost 20 per cent of votes cast for those parties are the votes of people, mainly peasants, who are disappointed with the EU, which in fact threatens their very existence. Had the DLA offered a clear left-wing and anti-capitalist policy in favour of the workers and peasants, the majority of these people would have supported them.

The state of the Left

After four years of devastating right-wing policies the Left is facing the biggest crisis since 1990. First, in March 2004, a group of right-wing MPs split from the DLA and founded the Polish Social-Democracy (SdPL). The polls initially showed that their support stood at almost 20 per cent. However, when they presented their right-wing programme, which they did very reluctantly, their support began to decline and in this election they gained only 3 per cent of the votes. They will probably end up like the British Social-Democratic Party in 1980s, and merge with some “progressive” Liberals to form a sort of Polish Liberal-Democratic Party. Nevertheless, one lesson can be drawn from the split of SdPL – there is a thirst for genuine leftist policies in Polish society.

Another symptom of the crisis of the DLA is that between December 2004 and June 2005 there were three changes in leadership - one after another swinging more and more to the left. Of course, Marxists are not cheerleaders for this or that leadership. Nevertheless, we see that the rank-and-file of the DLA (a party that still has around 70,000 members, which is a considerable number of militants given the conditions in Poland) is beginning to make its mind up about the last four years of right-wing policies and despite the anti-left propaganda in the media, clearly looks to the left in order to find the way forward. This is particularly important since the DLA has an organic link with All-Polish Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), the biggest trade-union federation in the country. During the electoral campaign this link was clearly confirmed when the new leader of the DLA went to the headquarters of OPZZ to ask the trade union to support the DLA and even offered to allow them to write the programme of the DLA. We cannot predict how these processes will unfold inside the DLA, but one thing is clear – it is the only sizeable political force that can represent the interests of the workers, at least for the moment. That is why it is and will be observed very closely by the Marxist tendency in Poland.

In fact, the effects of the changes inside the DLA can already be seen. The Alliance received more than 11 per cent of the vote, which for most of the commentators was a surprise since none of the polls had ever given it more than 7 per cent. Of course those commentators immediately proceeded to explain their mistake by saying that the DLA had the so-called “hardcore electorate” and was supported on the basis of the “communist nostalgia” of the ignorant of Polish society. However, the real fear of the ruling class was clearly expressed in Monday’s issue of Berliner Zeitung where their analyst expressed big disappointment with the low rankings of the DLA since, as he correctly argued, “the lack of the representation of the left in the parliament may block the path to social consensus and political discussions on the most important economic reforms that the Liberal-Conservative government will undertake and those discussions may soon come out of the parliament in the form of demonstrations and strikes”.

A need for militant trade unions and socialist policy in the DLA

Therefore, at least one conclusion can be drawn from these elections. Despite the wholesale anti-left propaganda in the media and in the circles of the ruling class, Polish workers and ruined peasantry – be it consciously or not – are looking for left-wing policies. It is only on this basis that the surprising victory of Law and Justice can be explained. In the last few weeks of the campaign they demagogically presented themselves as defenders of the poor against the the ultra-liberal Civic Platform. This allowed them to gain the support of disenchanted DLA voters (the rest of whom stayed at home). Even the leader of the Solidarity trade union supported Law and Justice.

However, Law and Justice will soon be exposed for what it is – a brutal, right-wing party that serves only the interests of the rich. The rank-and-file of Solidarity will soon discover the deception of its leadership. For the first time the stage will be open for cooperation between Solidarity and OPZZ, since both will now be in opposition. Given the overall poor state of Polish capitalism, a new wave of class struggle is inevitable. What we do not know is the time, place and concrete circumstances that will open this process.

This new developing mood in turn is and will be reflected in the DLA with continuous changes to the left. The position of the Marxists is that it is vital not only to vote for the DLA but also to participate in the processes inside the party. We have to demand from the new leadership clear, militant, left-wing policies and mobilise the rank-and-file of the party around them. The struggle has only just began.

Wojciech Figiel

Warsaw, September 29, 2005