By Paul Hampton
I visited Poland in January to learn about the reality Polish workers face and to meet socialist revolutionaries there.
Poland was the first country to overthrow Stalinism in 1989, but the Solidarnosc governments under Lech Walesa introduced a wave of market “reforms” that discredited the independent workers’ movement. The former Communists (known as SLD) revived and are now in government, where they have introduced neo-liberal austerity and lost support. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. In the European elections last year authoritarian right wing parties received most votes.
One Polish worker in five is unemployed, and many more fear for their jobs. There are three trade union federations: the OPZZ, former Communist trade union with less than a million members; a split off, the FZZ federation, with 300,000 members; and Solidarnosc, now a union without political affiliation after an electoral meltdown in 2001, with 900,000 members. The level of strikes is low.
I met comrades from the Revolutionary Left Current (NLR), including Third Camp socialists associated with the AWL. The NLR includes militants active in Solidarnosc during the 1980s, as well as younger activists and students. It publishes a magazine Dalej (Forward). NLR comrades are translating many works of Trotsky into Polish.
The left also includes an SWP group, Workers’ Democracy, and a vaguer group called New Left. Some well-know left individuals are no longer involved in left organisations. Jozef Pinior was elected to the European parliament last year as a candidate for the Social Democracy of Poland. Zbigniew Kowalewski is now an isolated advocate of various national “resistance” movements.
The NLR is active in the global justice movement in Poland. Last April it helped organise a Conference for a Social Europe with a demonstration of 4-5,000, the largest anti-capitalist protest yet organised in Poland.
During my visit I spoke at a public meeting on Iraq and the lessons of the British anti-war movement. The discussion involved Trotskyists, anarchists and ecologists. All were well-informed and keen to debate ideas and differences in a comradely fashion.
Despite the difficult conditions they work in, the comrades I met continue steadfastly to fight for working class socialism. I hope Solidarity will be able to publish articles by Polish comrades in our pages. Workers in Britain can learn a great deal from our sisters and brothers active in such a strategically important country in Eastern Europe.