The political situation in Poland before the parliamentary elections (scheduled for 21 October), is dominated by competition between two parties of the right. These are Law and Justice (PiS) (now in power) and Civic Platform (PO). Both represent right populist politics, but of different kinds.
PO is a neoliberal party with a neo-Thatcherite view of the social world and PiS has a more traditional type of populism, in which the political, intellectual and economic elites are criticised for serving their own interests without taking into account the problems of ordinary people.
The politicians and intellectuals of PiS base themselves on the idea of needing a clear break with the type of functioning of state institutions dominant until they came to power in 2005. It is connected with a strong anti-Communism, which — paradoxically — serves as a ideological weapon in a specific criticism of the kind of capitalist society which emerged out of the social and economic transformation of the neo-Stalinist social relations.
The populist and rightist content of this criticism are clear.
They say the faults of the capitalist transformation were caused by the economic transition of a part of the former communist nomenklatura into a new capitalist elite. This post-communist capitalists and the support that they got from the dominant political and state institutions are presented as the real cause of the “deformations” of capitalist society in Poland.
This is a well known scheme of right populism — to condemn a part of the economical and political ruling classes for behaving not “correctly” and against the interests of the national community.
The nationalist and anti-Communist ideology of right populism has a big impact on the population. This is connected with the weakness of left ideas and left political activities, and the right’s conquest of state mass-media, which are used to show a struggle of the political right against the “corrupted” elites.
The PiS “struggle against corruption”, used by them as an instrument to build a kind of popular capitalism, would not be successful if the opposition were able to show that it is pure demagogy, behind which the new political bourgeois elite not only exploits state institutions for their own profits, but also tries to overcome the liberal idea of the partition of power between different state institutions. They have concentrated all sources of political state power in the hands of a ruling nationalist-conservative clique led by twin brothers Kaczynski (one of them is president, the other prime minister).
Many groups of liberal and social-democratic intellectuals and politicians are unable to break from illusions in PiS because they are not willing to articulate real social problems and (class) interests. Post-communist social-democracy does not take on the struggle with the right over capitalist exploitation and poverty, but in fact criticises the right’s attacks on the brutal social-economic transformation in Poland. This situation is well described by Bronislaw Lagowski, a well known left-liberal intellectual, in the social-democratic weekly Przeglad (Review). He argues that the 90s were a very good time for post-Communist social-democracy because ordinary people then supported social-democracy, seeing them the only alternative to the political right.
Disillusionment with the social-economic politics of the Polish social-democracy caused a strong crisis in the party, but no left current emerged as a result, because the politics of the party were controlled by a professional apparatus who belonged to a (privileged) ruling political and economic class.
Despite this, some leftist voters will vote for the social-democratic Left and Democrats (LiD), because there are not many alternatives.
One of alternative possibilities is Self-Defence — one of the two big parties which represent the interests of the peasants. This party participated in the rightist government of PiS but left it. Since then the leadership of the party have made a turn to left social phraseology.
This turn of Self-Defence may be just tactical, but it made possible for the radical left group Nowa Lewica/New Left (which includes AWL co-thinkers in Poland) to participate in the elections on the lists on Self-Defence. Its leader Piotr Ikonowicz, who is known as one of very few politicians who has tried to put socialist ideas into political landscape of Poland, is standing.
The difficulties for the far left in participating in political life are the same as in many other capitalist societies. Politics has been transformed into a spectacle of competition between professional political cliques, and material resources for participation in this game lie only in the hands of the capitalist (economic) ruling class.
The idea of a civil society being a base for the proper functioning of democracy was connected by most intellectuals after 1989 with the functioning of capitalism, but nowadays even the liberal press says that the historical connection between capitalism and parliamentary democracy is not unproblematic, because of the tendency of the capitalist market to atomize people and the transformation of social relations in relations based on individual competition.
The nationalist and populist PiS government tries to politicise people through politics which claim to represent the (national) interests of all Polish people against internal (corrupted post-communist businessmen) and foreign enemies (like Russians, liberals from the EU disrespecting Polish Catholic values etc). This politics attempts to undermine Ikonowicz and Nowa Lewica and others — such as the small social-democratic Polish Labour Party (PPP), which is controlled by the leadership of a trade union.
The forthcoming parliamentary elections will be won by the political right, but there is a hope that the socialist left (by Ikonowicz and PPP’s participation) will be able to show a distinctive position in the eyes of many thousands of working class people.