Poland: The government changes but the crises remain

Donald Tusk, Poland's new prime minister

In an election held last October in Poland, with a historically high voter turnout of more than 74 percent, the previously ruling Law and Justice (PiS) – a right wing populist and nationalist party  – lost its absolute majority. Since December, the broad anti-PiS alliance, led by the Civic Coalition and politician Donald Tusk, has formed a government. They speak of restoring democratic principles and the rule of law, unity, solidarity and a “happy” Poland. However, this government will also be primarily a representation of capital and will not be able to solve the problems of the working class.

Anyone following the news from Poland can imagine how difficult it will be for the new government to implement any measures. The often bizarre reports of police storming the headquarters of the state media or the occupation of buildings by PiS supporters, the arrest of former ministers and their eventual release, discussions about the legitimacy and recognition of the chamber of the Constitutional Court created by PiS or appointed judges – all this reveals the extent of the political crisis in Poland. This political crisis is an expression of the ongoing crisis of Polish capitalism and the resulting economic instability, social upheaval and insecurity caused by the unstable global situation. The historically high voter turnout and the historically large demonstration of one million people in Warsaw against the PiS are signs of how important it is to many people to decide on their future. However, given the lack of an alternative from the left, the nationalist and conservative forces were the main beneficiaries of the mood of uncertainty.

Crisis consciousness

Increasing uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine and the deteriorating economic situation, is key aspect impacting on the consciousness working masses recently. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a neighbouring country, sent Poles into a deep shock. In view of Poland’s history of invasions, partitions and occupations, the fear of an attack by a foreign power is deeply rooted in the historical consciousness. The fear of an attack by Russia on Polish land has increased massively since 2022 and the concrete support of Ukraine, including with weapons, are seen by many as a direct defence measure.

At the same time, the aid is a burden on the budget and Poland’s financial situation. Poland must pay significantly higher interest on government bonds than Greece, for example. In the same way, sanctions against Russia and the admission of Ukrainian goods to the Polish market, which is leading to a drop in the price of grain, for example, are putting a strain on the shaky Polish economy, which has already been hit by inflation and the decline in private consumption.

The economic situation is hitting the working class hard. As in other countries, the cost of living is a key problem. Inflation rose to more than 11 per cent in 2023, and price increases of more than six per cent are also expected in 2024. Although wages also rose in 2023, the increases were far below the inflation threshold. This results in a decline in the standard of living of the broad masses. The number of people suffering from extreme poverty is rising. In addition, other social crises, such as the housing crisis, are continuing.

This objective situation poses a challenge for left-wing forces. There is a low level of organisation, the weakness of the trade unions and, finally, the lack of genuine left-wing parties that distance themselves from the capitalist strategies of “fighting the crisis” and put forward a class programme independent of capital. This allows nationalist forces to exploit the mood for their own ends.

The rise and fall of PiS

On this basis, PiS was able to win the 2023 elections as the strongest party. This makes PiS the first party in Poland to become the strongest force in parliamentary elections three times in a row. Despite the many scandals and the incompetence of those in power, the party was able to defend the core of its electorate. However, as it has no coalition partners, it has de facto lost the elections. But the high result shows that the PiS is not defeated. Its breeding ground is primarily the discrediting of the other bourgeois parties. For a long time, PiS was able to assert itself as the anti Civic Platform force, which continues to be hated by large sections of the population due to the implementation of nasty neoliberal measures and its arrogance.

During its time in government, PiS has bought the loyalty of layers of the working class through a series of social measures. Since capitalism in its current state offers no room for improvement for the working class as a whole – at least not without mobilising the working class, which the right wing does not do – PiS could only offer something to sections of the working class. In the end, PiS policies amounted to a bizarre version of identity politics, favouring traditional Polish families. However, measures such as child benefit or taking back the pension reform were measures that made life better for millions of Poles. This allowed the PiS to build up the image of a social force among some.

This shows how great the discrepancy is between the perception of the party and its actual policies. PiS had promised to act against the powerful corporations from Germany and the USA. Hardly any government in Europe has been so open and eager to listen to and consider the interests of big capital. Their measures brought Poland ever closer to a country of cheap labour and low taxes for companies. One after another, the right-wingers gave advantages or tax benefits to large companies and used their political influence to prevent international taxation. Economic relief measures during the pandemic have also favoured big business and even the Sunday sales ban has been conducted in a way that mostly benefits big industry. The government’s handling of strikes by teachers and nurses proves, once again, how anti-working class right-wing populists are, even if they want to portray themselves as representatives of the ‘ordinary people’.

The PiS combined their policy with agitation against anyone who does not belong to their target group, especially LGBTIQ+ people and migrants, but they also did not spare women’s rights, such as the right to abortion. This led to a massive polarisation that was not based on class interests, but on values: for or against LGBTIQ+, for or against women’s rights, for or against democratic rights. The discussion hardly went beyond the bourgeois interpretation of these rights. For example, many liberal forces have spoken out in favour of the right to abortion, but of course have not taken into consideration that true freedom of choice can only exist if people do not first have to calculate whether they can afford to have children, at all, due to their economic situation. Many of these liberal forces are also those that agitate against “social parasites”, such as the mythical mothers who finance their lives through child benefits. The PiS was able to gain a layer of loyal supporters through its actions, but this created a hardened opposition that it has now finally defeated.

New government will not bring stability

When the new government took office, it was greeted with international relief. And it can definitely be assumed that it will be more predictable and reliable for capitalists in Poland and worldwide. The new prime minister Donald Tusk is a far-sighted and experienced representative of capitalism. However, this alone will not solve the crisis facing Poland and the world. Even if the government brags about all the things they will do better, they are being sabotaged from day one. Even though the PiS does not have a majority in parliament, it still retains the post of president, with the power of veto, and it politically controls the Constitutional Court. This means the continuation of legal disputes and largely limited room for manoeuvre.

In addition, the coalition is united above all in its anti-PiS position but has widely divergent ideas in many other areas. It is a coalition of three electoral alliances, the neoliberal Civic Coalition, the conservative Third Way and the left-liberal “Left” Association. There is agreement above all on holding the PiS accountable and reversing its judicial reforms. Many other expected reforms, such as the liberalisation of abortion laws or the opening of marriage to LGBTIQ+ people, are controversial. This is the main reason why the new government will be focussing on holding PiS to account and thus quenching the bloodthirst of its voters. It is certainly in their interest to conduct this debate loudly and controversially, so as not to trigger a discussion about real improvements for working people. There is one consensus among the ruling parties – they will not voluntarily give anything to the working class. The ruling government’s MPs complaints about budget holes left by PiS are an indicator of preparations for cuts. We can assume that Poland’s ailing finances will be used as a pretext for austerity measures in the near future, even if the receipt of outstanding EU funds could allow room for individual measures. On the whole, the government will not be able to solve any of the population’s social problems.

And where is the left?

There is currently no relevant left-wing force in Poland that is able to offer an alternative to the capitalist crisis. The official political left consists of the “Left” alliance, which is made up of two parties, the New Left and the Razem party. However, the New Left is left-wing in name only. Although on paper New Left call for better workplace conditions, a good healthcare system, etc., this hardly plays a role in their daily activities. In reality, they fully support the policies of the Civic Coalition with some left-wing value projects, such as abortion rights. They also contribute to the fact that the left is primarily seen as a representative of women’s identity politics.

Razem, on the other hand, is the only relevant party in Poland that can be described as left-wing. Razem could have been a starting point for the formation of a mass workers’ party. However, this party was unable to play such a catalyst role and is now on the decline. It has lost activists and voters over the years. Above all, significantly the Left has the lowest support of all electoral alliances among working people, even lower than the fascist Konfederacja! Razem’s voter base is mostly well-educated petit bourgeois. We have long criticised the fact that Razem is standing for election in an electoral alliance with the other parties that falsely call themselves left-wing. Now they even gone further to the extent of even giving some support to the government. Razem is in an awkward position because the coalition has a comfortable majority without its MPs. In the negotiations in which Razem took part, it was unable to push through any of its programmatic points. It at least had enough sense not to sign the agreement and join the government. At the same time, Razem announced its support for the new government on every question, justifying it by saying keeping PiS from coming back to power is the central objective.

Building left-wing workers’ organisations

This means that there is no party available to Poles that could offer a bold socialist alternative to the establishment. At the same time, the country has been shaken by massive and successful movements in recent years, such as the movement against the attack on reproductive rights. These movements remained one issue type events, on the one hand, but on the other hand they carried elements of a social revolt against the status quo and those in power. This can be seen in the widely used slogan “Piss off!”, and the demand not just for a change in policies, but the overthrow of the government.

Unfortunately, these movements have never managed to initiate a democratic discussion about the necessary programme, demands and structures, and have thus fizzled out. This is also due to the fact that the leftists in these movements did not represent a class standpoint, had no roots in the working class and, above all, did not try to distinguish themselves from the bourgeois parties. On the contrary, they actively wanted to belong to the bourgeois anti-PiS bloc.

The result is that the political left is now in a situation where the government it supports is likely to carry out attacks on the working class and it is not at all politically prepared for this. Since it has also supported the slogan “PiS vs. everyone else”, it has allowed itself to be ground down in the polarisation and now has hardly any basis for growth.

If this is to change, the few left-wing forces must first and foremost discuss and prioritise a class perspective. This means putting forward programme that points in the interests of the working class in every discussion, beyond moralising arguments. This includes a loud rejection of the current bourgeois government, which in the end will primarily represent the interests of capital. Instead, the left must focus on social issues, such as good jobs, a good healthcare system and a solution to the housing crisis. At the same time, a left force can only be successful if it builds its base in the working class. That is why activists must work in trade unions and create a platform for left action that can become a starting point for new organisations of the working class. Only such an organisation can break the ping-pong of nationalist, conservative and neoliberal policies, all at the expense of working people.


Special financial appeal to all readers of socialistworld.net

Support building alternative socialist media

Socialistworld.net provides a unique analysis and perspective of world events. Socialistworld.net also plays a crucial role in building the struggle for socialism across all continents. Capitalism has failed! Assist us to build the fight-back and prepare for the stormy period of class struggles ahead.
Please make a donation to help us reach more readers and to widen our socialist campaigning work across the world.

Donate via Paypal

Liked this article? We need your support to improve our work. Please become a Patron! and support our work
Become a patron at Patreon!
February 2024