Poland: Future of Polish government in doubt

Tumultuous twins sack Deputy Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper

Poland’s government is in danger of total collapse after the Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, aided by his twin brother, Lech, who is the Polish President, sacked the deputy Prime Minister, Andrzej Lepper, of the Self Defence party. The current political crisis could bring an end to a government of right wing nationalist and populist parties only in power for 4 months.

The brother Kaczynski are leaders of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), the right wing nationalist force who won the last general election inflicting a huge defeat on the outgoing government of the Democratic Left Alliance (Poland’s former communist party). Law and Justice’s politics are a mix of nationalism and anti-communism. It won the elections thanks to its campaigns against outright privatisation, against the growing influence of foreign capital in the Polish economy and against the robbery of state assets by the ruling elite in the transition from Stalinism to capitalism. It received 27% of the votes against 24% for its main contender, the neo-liberal opposition party, Civic Platform. However, as Paul Newbery GPR (cwi) member in Poland, reported at the time “the record low turn out of 40% meant that almost two thirds of the electorate gave all political parties a massive thumbs down, feeling that no party represented their interest.”

Post-electoral negotiations to form a PiS – Civic Platform government failed and the brothers Kaczynski opted for a minority cabinet supported by Self Defence and the reactionary ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families (LPR). This summer, Self-Defence and the League of Polish Families officially joined the cabinet to form one of the more exotic Polish governments in recent history. It was dubbed the “accidental government” by the international press.

Afghanistan and public spending

Self-Defence is described in the press as a “leftist” force. The position of Andrzej Lepper, as the undisputed leader as Self-Defence, are more akin to classical populism. His national notoriety is based on organising farmers’ protests against the European Union, which he calls the “mafia in Brussels” and refers to their “collaborators” in Warsaw. As a former pig-farmer himself, albeit a large one, Lepper consistently championed the plight of the farmers and the rural poor in Poland. In a country where nearly 15 million people, or over a third of Poland’s population, live in the country side, this is no small matter. When Poland joined the European Union hopes were raised that money from Brussels would transform the lives of the many smallholders in the country side. The evidence, so far, is that while agro-industry and export-orientated holdings rake in profits, the situation for millions of small holders is bleaker then ever. To find a way out of poverty, thousands of Poles have left its one-storey log cabins, its tiny plots and the horse-drawn carts of the country side.

Andrzej Lepper left the government over its decision to supply an extra 1,000 soldiers to the NATO force in Afghanistan. In the last months, he led a heated debate, arguing for more public spending on health, education and for fuel subsidies for farmers. The Law and Justice party disagreed and locked the budget deficit for the next year at 30 billion zlotys. Lepper demanded 2.5 billion zlotys more spending. However ‘eccentric’ some of the parties in government might appear the overall aim of capitalist politicians is to get Poland into the euro zone and to continue the pro-market reforms of previous governments.

Poland, and the Kaczynski government in particular, came under criticism from international commentators for holding back from more neo-liberal reforms. The Financial Times, in an editorial, this week, stated that “Poland as a whole will suffer because the government is not making use of the current period of rising growth and falling unemployment to cut wasteful welfare spending”. The economic figures give some credibility to the comment that Poland is experiencing a “current period of rising growth and falling unemployment”. Demand for raw materials from China has boosted the coal and steel industry. This has given some relief, as plans to cut production in both industries are temporarily postponed. However with general unemployment at 18% and youth unemployment around 40% it seems a tad exaggerated to speak about falling unemployment.

As reported by the CWI comrades in Poland, over the summer the country was struck by a wave of working class militancy, as striking nurses and doctors forced the government to make massive concessions. Miners also moved into action, demanding a share of the profits from the mining companies. The profits of the three biggest mining companies exceeded 250 million euros. Even the police, alongside fire-fighters and border guards, were gearing up for action against the government.

Prisoners fill jobs left vacant by the rush to Europe

Since Poland joined the European Union, in May 2004, more than 1.2 million Poles went to Western Europe. Fuelled by a desire to escape mass youth unemployment and slave wages, thousands went to countries like Britain and Ireland. This created labour shortages in Polish construction, plumbing and electrical industries but also in the more traditional low wage sectors, such as catering, nursing and residential home care sectors. The government has now allowed prisoners to work outside jails to fill the vacancies created by mass immigration. The prisoners are working in gangs for 86p a day.

Frustrated patriots

In an attempt to face down the double treat of increased working class militancy on the one hand, and the exodus of young and skilled workers, on the other hand, the Law and Justice government stepped up its ‘patriotic campaigns’. The Kaczynski brothers hit the front pages with homophobic and anti-German statements. President Lech Kaczynski, who banned a gay pride march when he was the major of Warsaw, provoked outrage when he floated the idea of reintroducing the death penalty.

Subsequently they tried to appeal to national and anti-communist feelings, by campaigning for a ‘fourth republic’. This, in effect, is a attempted purge of the state. They used the files of the security services from the Stalinist-era to ‘cleanse’ everyone from official life who had any links whatsoever, with the Jaruzelski Stalinist regime. Even priests and high officials of the Catholic Church came under fire, and they where criticised for their role in negotiating with the former Stalinist regime.

The government created an elite law enforcement agency, called the ‘Central Anti-Corruption Bureau’ to investigate people’s pasts and how some of the influential figures under Stalinism enriched themselves during the transition period to capitalism. Holders of a wide range of public sector posts will require certification by the ‘Institute of National Remembrance’, an institution that holds police files from pre-1989.

PiS spokespeople hammer away at hitting the “clique” that rules Poland. PiS deputy, Cymanski, was quoted saying “The connections between old secret services, business circles and politics is not fiction, but a reality”

Radoslaw Markowski, a political analyst, comments on the attempts by PiS to take control of the Central Bank, the Constitutional Tribunal, and even local governments by saying the PiS is “Like the Bolsheviks. Until they have controlled the whole governing process, they won’t start making any decisions.”

Whilst these purges, and especially the ones aimed at the banking sector and Leszek Blacerowicz (the central bank president reviled by many Poles for selling of state assets cheaply and creating deep divisions between the haves and the have-nots) may get an echo from people who feel cheated since 1989, parties like Law and Justice do not offer any way forward for working class Poles.

Internationalism and working class struggle

It is misleading for the international press to call this government “accidental”. The political instability in Poland, like in other East European countries, flows from the disastrous social situation created by the reintroduction of capitalism. As a result, we have seen a succession of weak government, losing authority and support, as they move to do away with stable employment, social services and benefits. The privatisation process lead to a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots, with yesterdays Stalinist bureaucracy enriching themselves, while the majority of the population find conditions have worsened.

What the Polish working class needs is its own political party

The neo-liberal party, Civic Platform, appeals to the ‘winners’ of the last 15 years. Its base consists of business men, middle class professionals, and those who think that the country is on the right path and only needs ‘tweaking’. PiS in contrast are supported by the poor, the disappointed and the patriotic who feel the last 15 years were harsh. So far, there is no evidence of any personal greed or corruption on the part of Law and Justice. “These people live in the same grotty flats, with the same grotty wives and the drive the same grotty cars as they were 15 years ago” said an observer of Polish politics quoted in the British magazine, ‘The Economist’. “Compare that with the mansions, Mercedes and mistresses that their political opponents manage to afford on their official salaries”.

Important as this may be, in a country where the last coalition perished under a mountain of corruption scandals, it does not mean that the leaders of PiS do not lead a cushioned life unimaginable to most of their voters. Moreover Law and Justice’s programme is not a programme for the working class but a screen behind which one layer of the capitalist class and the middle class fights for their own interests.

The resurgence of working class struggle and strikes in Poland needs to be accompanied by intense campaigning for the formation of a new working class party. This party would first and foremost be an instrument to assist the workers in the day to day struggle for their rights and interest. It would be a school of action and ideas. The GPR, the CWI comrades in Poland, work together with a small working class and trade union based party called the Polish Labour Party. This formation can play a role, even if only as a pre-formation, in gathering the first forces for the creation of a new mass workers party. The forces of the CWI in Poland would fight for such a party to adopt a genuine democratic socialist program to abolish capitalism and built a society for the millions instead of the millionaires

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September 2006