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May Day in light of the current political situation in Poland

category poland / czech / slovakia | the left | opinion / analysis author Thursday May 03, 2012 23:49author by akai Report this post to the editors

Compared to many places in Europe, the socio-political situation in Poland is quite tragic with nearly complete right-wing ideological hegemony and attacks on workers' rights and access to public services which go years beyond the reforms just being introduced in the rest of Euope. With little social response to it. As part of one of the few organized pockets of resistance, I try to focus and try to go forward, yet taking a sober look around, the forces that are gaining as the crisis worsens are from the right and extreme right, while the left flounders and the anti-authoritarian movement struggles to keep afloat during a period of social resignation.

May Day in light of the current political situation in Poland

Compared to many places in Europe, the socio-political situation in Poland is quite tragic with nearly complete right-wing ideological hegemony and attacks on workers' rights and access to public services which go years beyond the reforms just being introduced in the rest of Euope. With little social response to it. As part of one of the few organized pockets of resistance, I try to focus and try to go forward, yet taking a sober look around, the forces that are gaining as the crisis worsens are from the right and extreme right, while the left flounders and the anti-authoritarian movement struggles to keep afloat during a period of social resignation.

The Old Guard of the Left

The old guard of the left is preserved in the post-communist aparatus of the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance), the former ruling party, which is trying to keep its foothold in the parliament after years of declining popularity. The SLD is riddled with cronyism and long ago showed its true face: the introduction of many neoliberal reforms, of flat rate tax for businesses, trading women's reproductive rights to the church (in return for not making too much anti-EU propaganda), aiding the US to set up CIA secret prisons in Poland, sending troops to Iraq... These are just of few of their dirty deeds.

The trade union federation OPZZ (All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions) is politically linked by old-time cronies with the SLD and they march together or May Day. OPZZ is part of the Tri-Partite Commission, which trades away workers' rights in social partnership with the government. Although many of its rank and file activists are truly opposed to new attacks on their rights, OPZZ and the other Tri-Partite unions (Solidarity and FZZ) try to avoid strikes and serious workers' actions at all cost, their recent "response" to raising the retirement age posing no threat at all.

At least the youth branch of the SLD, the Federation of Young Socialdemocrats went out with more radical workers' slogans (- copied from the ZSP).

The Liberal Pseudoleft Political Product

Among the most grotesque spectacles of the day was the Congress of the "Palikot Movement", a political party named after the bozo which founded it, a millionaire businessman and politician who used to be in the ruling Civic Party (neoliberal). He rebranded himself as a liberal and even tries to pass off as a leftist.

Palikot recently supported raising the retirement age in Poland and was against raising the minimum wage. His past shows that he supports flat tax regardless of income, doing away with many trade union rights, etc. etc. He lead a commission which advised how to make things better for business.

The rise of the Palikot Movement is deeply connected with attempts to sidetrack the old guard left, both by people trying to create a new, liberal movement and by forces trying to create a soft opposition. A first high-financed attempt to replace the old guard with a liberal left product (Krytyka Polityczna) did not manage to become a political party with any support, so Palikot decided to fill this niche. By supporting a range of lifestyle issues that the right and large parts of the old guard left do not (pot smoking, anti-clericalism, gay rights, etc.), the Palikot Movement gained the support of liberals who had no political voice. Next a few leftists jumped on board the rich movement, which managed to get seats in the last parliamentary elections.

The Palikot movement announced some insincere postulates about "corrections to capitalism", while supporting its offensive in its actual practice.

Opportunistic Chameleons in Red

The only way to describe the "New Left" which revolves around Piotr Ikonowicz. As the years go by, his political alliances shift, depending on who is giving out money. Ikonowicz's specialty is also political marketing, getting money and delivering up "poor people" to a successive list of "friends" and sponsors, ranging from the SLD to the Palikot movement.

One difference from the other left marching on May Day is that at least his group does deal on a grassroots level with poor people. Unfortunately they are used instrumentally at election time, when he always acts as a mouthpiece for his latest sponsor.

He went to bat for Palikot during the elections, on the promise of big money (which Palikot used to show his support for poor people but, as we hear, never was actually given in full.) The big question this year was, would Ikonowicz be back up the ass of Palikot on his demonstration, or would he do something on his own. Despite assuring leftists around Warsaw that he would not go to Palikot, just before May Day he started to find different pretexts to coerce people to go there and eventually led his march to his Congress. Such maneouvres meant that much of the tiny traditional left did not bother with him this year.

Autonomist Nationalists Try to Take Over May Day

A few hundred people were at a fascist march as these nationalists try to make inroads in social movements and take over traditions like May Day. Looking at their politics, it sort of like how Hitler outlawed trade unions but introduced May Day instead.

The autonomist nationalists, like several other far-right groups in Poland, have tried to co-opt anarchist and anti-fascist symbolism. In particular, they seem to like appropriating slogans, graphics and other work of the ZSP, which are in strict opposition to their politics.

General analysis

In this age of crisis, the left is floundering and, at the same time, the right-wing movements of different shades are capitalizing on popular discontent.

The general crisis of the Polish left has been that for years it has focused on the parliamentary route and thus moves from one comprising coalition to another. Operating in a right-wing environment, successive left-wing parties have incorporated elements of patriotism, nationalism, etc. into its political landscape, including activists from these movements.

At the same time, the number of other leftists, with more revolutionary or anti-capitalist politics (authoritarian or anti-authoritarian) remains miserably low. However, some new activists have been engaging more in genuine social movements and perhaps a new face of the left, albeit it still socialdemocratic in nature, may arise.

The right-wing is divided into several tendencies. The radical right has been capitalizing on discontent with the effects of neoliberalism by spreading criticism of selected elements of the beast. Poland has suffered terribly from the introduction of IMF-backed transition programs over 20 years ago, then followed by new measures in the accession period and upon joining the EU. Thus the radical right can create a band of "traitors" - the people who organized the Round Table in 1989, the supporters of EU integration, etc. etc. In such a way, capitalism itself remains untouched and the problem becomes a series of measures imposed by foreigners, with the help of "traitors" (even better if they are Jews).

Given the overall social climate, it is easy to see how this type of propaganda can be misleading and draw more people to it. In recent months we have seen mass protests of the right-wing: one protest in defense of the ultra-Catholic media was several times bigger than protests against raising the retirement age, for example. Although part of the ruling right pretends to be an opposition to the other part, and even makes references to issues like the retirement age, it is moving people around odd conspiracy theories like the Russians who caused the airplane crash in Smolensk, or around "repression" of the Catholic media. In such a way, it is gathering people around itself with idiot issues but leaving the real social and political issues untouched.

The Anarchist Movement, Anarchosyndicalism and May Day

There simply is not one anarchist movement in Poland, just like anywhere else in the world. In a recent debate with Trotskyists, they brought out one point that I could not disagree with. Part of the movement is organizing itself to make social responses to capitalism, while another part has responded by creating isolated islands of alternative living and culture. Although some people related to squatting or even alternative culture take some part in different social struggles, we can see how others have just dropped out. And such movements are quite limited in their reach.

Other anarchists seem to be in retreat or waiting for people to organize big spectacles for them. They are much more likely to be seen on a liberal march or in Berlin than at organizing meetings of anarchists in Warsaw. They are constantly stuck in the vicious circle driven by a toxic combination of ambition and laziness, where the ambition is to march in huge crowds but with no plans or idea how to organize it in Poland. (The truth is – you cannot organize it in Poland. You can organize some decent demos if you have an everyday movement or if you revolve around culture or lifestyle. The pot parade is usually one of the biggest demos of the year.)

Some older activists of the movement, who have an strange understanding of anti-capitalism, look for ways to resurrect the "good old days", when the movement wasn't "sectarian" and libertarians and punks fought the common enemy – the state and "the system".

Others have constructed theories about "the real" vs. "the symbolic", preferring to deal with real issues. I can respect that – when it really is true that the activist is engaged with grassroots movements on a daily basis. However, when "the real" is only the private activity of the squat or the isolated affinity group, I think I prefer the symbolism of May Day.

With all of this in the background, the ZSP decided to march on May Day, as did some other anarchists. So we went together against the pseudo-left and politicians, as well as against the nationalists. I cannot say it was the best May Day I'd ever seen, but compared to what else went on that day, it was at least quite a clear statement.

(Unfortunately not without tension when one old-schooler put some Austrian school economists' text from von Mises institute on the FB page. Luckily it went and the speeches and message on May Day were better.)

Marching past cafes serving bourgeois people outrageously expensive coffee, we spoke about the working conditions, about the lack of work contracts, low wages, lack of holiday days, etc. We didn't plan any direct actions there, which is a shame. Next year we've got to shut them all down.

Despite all the various negative factors, we were happy we could remind people of the real origins of May Day and the genuine workers' struggle. (Or rather inform them, since some younger people have no idea.) On the other hand, I have a bad feeling about it all. Because if the anti-authoritarians or even the anti-capitalist left cannot organize themselves and carry out both more real work and be more visible on the street, we face a bleak future. As it is, we were outmobilized this year by the fascists – and there weren't any other anti-fascists in sight.

Maybe some people consider May Day just to be a symbolic tradition and there is some truth to that. But we cannot be socially invisible on this day, nor can we let the field be taken over by fascists who clearly are quite disciplined.

I am also glad that other people, not anarchists but anti-capitalists with some libertarian or grassroots tendencies, came this year to the only anti-capitalist march in town (even if I do not agree with some of their politics). At least they are not fooled by the charlatans going around and posing as leftists or the opportunists who are in their pockets.


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