Poland: The 18th Brumaire of Jaroslaw Kaczynski

It's been a month since the historic elections in Poland, in which the right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS), became the first party since 1989 to secure an outright majority which allowed it to form a new government. PiS achieved victory thanks to the mixture of social demagogy and nationalism, exploiting discontent with the ruling Civic Platform (PO), which imposed harsh austerity measures and compromised itself with political scandals, and under whose rule the rich got richer thanks to EU donations while wages remained low (see our article Elections in Poland: Don't Mourn, Organise). Beata Szydło became the new Prime Minister, but just like President Andrzej Duda she seems to be a puppet of PiS's leader, Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who rules his party with an iron fist.

The last month certainly hasn't been boring. On 9 November the Party revealed its new Cabinet, the highlights include: Antoni Macierewicz, the man who became famous for being the main champion of the theory that the Smolensk plane crash of 2010, in which PiS's President Lech Kaczyński and other important people died, was a Russian-led assassination not an accident (it seems to be not the only conspiracy theory he believes- in 2002 he told listeners of ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja that while there's debate concerning the authenticity of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, “experience shows that there are such groups in Jewish circles”), becoming Minister of Defense, Jarosław Gowin, chief anti-in vitro fertilisation crusader in Poland (who said he feels like he's a foster father of embryos frozen in nitrogen), becoming Minister of Science and Higher Education, Zbigniew Ziobro, who during the first PiS government introduced the infamous Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, is returning to the post of Minister of Justice, and Mariusz Kamiński, who was the former head of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau convicted of abusing his power (but who received a pardon from Duda), has been appointed to the post of the Coordinator of Special Services, in which he will oversee police and intelligence agencies. PiS's minister of culture, Piotr Gliński, unsuccessfully sought to block the performance of the play “Death and the Maiden” by Elfriede Jelinek at a theatre in Wroclaw, because it includes a scene in which actors are having real sex on stage. After journalist Karolina Lewicka repeatedly asked Gliński on public television TVP on what legal basis he had wanted to ban the play, she was temporarily suspended within a few hours.

The new government is in favor of an aggressive foreign policy, especially towards Russia, and wants to become more independent from Germany and the European Union, relying on an alliance with the United States (Poland just expressed its wish to host U.S. nuclear weapons as NATO’s eastern flank), but it is also intent on crushing its enemies at home. As we predicted[1], PiS swept all its populist promises under the carpet and focused on building an authoritarian regime (their inspiration being interwar Polish dictator, Józef Piłsudski, and Hungarian nationalist PM Viktor Orban, who became famous for erecting a wall at the border with Serbia to stop refugees from crossing) and showed its true, anti-worker face. New foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, after the terrorist attacks in Paris said not only that Poland will accept no Middle Eastern refugees (PO previously agreed to take a symbolic number of 7000, Christians only), but also implied the need for keeping leftists, whom he blamed for these attacks, under surveillance. Gowin is another fanatic of the free market, being in favor of privatisation of higher education for which he is now responsible. The new Minister of Development, Mateusz Morawiecki, is the president of the bank BZ WBK, earning millions annually, and is also a chairman of the board of directors of the Leviathan Confederation, which for years has been lobbying for the interests of big capital in Polish politics. Such a person will certainly understand the problems of the common Polish worker! It has also turned out that the one of the chief postulates of the PiS during the electoral campaign, increased benefits for children (“500 zloty for every child”), is a sham. The Ministry of Labour confirmed that, if they apply for that benefit, 150,000 families will lose all the rest of the social assistance they receive now, and 190,000 will lose most of it, as they will be above the income threshold entitling them to social benefits. Even if PiS acts on its promise of undoing the rise in the retirement age, pensions will be at starvation level. Another proposal of the PiS, a tax on supermarkets will raise prices and thus hurt poor people who buy at them because they can't afford to buy at corner shops.

The PiS is trying to concentrate state power entirely in its hands. Only two days after the swearing-in of Szydło, the heads of the four intelligence agencies were called in for a meeting with her and Kaczyński, after which they resigned “voluntarily”. After appointing Kamiński, they excluded the opposition from control over the intelligence services by reducing the number of members of parliamentary committee and abolishing rotating chairmanship between government and opposition. Kaczyński's party announced its intent to make significant changes to the Constitution – what they have in store for us is indicated in their draft constitution of 2011, which included an increase in the powers of the President and a weakening of the role of the Sejm, the lower house of the parliament (which is also in the spirit of Pilsudski and his cronies), a ban on abortion and a weakening of the separation between Catholic Church and state. That's why they tried to bring the Constitutional Tribunal, Poland's highest court, which determines the constitutionality of laws, under their control. In the parliamentary sitting of 26 November they rushed through a law which declared the election of five judges to the tribunal by the previous parliament to be invalid, as any amendment of the bill regulating selection of judges was allegedly unconstitutional. According to the former president of the Tribunal, Jerzy Stępień, this move was illegal, as Sejm is allowed only to appoint judges, not dismiss them. He called this a coup. On 2 December parliament appointed five new judges. Duda had refused to accept the oath of office of judges elected under PO rule, but accepted it instantly from these newly chosen ones. This constiutional crisis exposed the “anti-establishment” movement of Paweł Kukiz[2], whose deputies supported PiS's actions and even proposed to dissolve the Tribunal altogether. On 9 December the Constitutional Tribunal will rule on the constitutionality of the appointment of the five PiS-nominated judges.

This attempt to undermine the authority of Constitutional Tribunal produced outrage in the opposition of the PO, Polish People's Party (PSL) and Nowoczesna (“Modern”), which considered it an assault on democracy. The parliamentary session of 2 December was stormy, with opposition deputies waving copies of the Constitution and shouting, quite ridiculously, “Down with the komuna!” (“commune”, meaning here the Stalinist government). A Committee of Defense of Democracy (KOD) was formed, receiving endorsement from bourgeois-liberal mouthpiece “Gazeta Wyborcza”, and participated in a protest outside the Sejm. Journalist Tomasz Lis called for a “Polish Maidan” in Warsaw. Leszek Balcerowicz[3] himself, in an interview with the journal “Newsweek”, talked about the need to “defend freedom”.

What should our attitude towards it all be? While what PiS is doing is certainly not a good sign, we should not let ourselves be fooled again and be drawn into a civil war between different factions of the Polish bourgeoisie, in defense of a bourgeois constitution. We ask, where all these “defenders of democracy” and the Constitution were when state-owned industries were illegally privatised (certain politicians of pro-business Nowoczesna were in the management of these companies), when people were employed on a contract without health insurance, when people were fired for founding a union at work, or when a tenant activist and a victim of wild re-privatisation, Jolanta Brzeska, was murdered and the prosecutor's office conducted an investigation for two years assuming that it was a suicide, and then discontinued it? If the PO had been the bastion of democracy for the last 8 years, why did it raise the retirement age despite the population's demands, ignored motions for referendums or, at the municipal level, raised the prices and reduced the availability of public services? And what democracy can there be when the minority of property owners can condemn the great majority to death from starvation? Democracy has yet to be won, in spite of PO, in spite of Nowoczesna, in spite of “Gazeta Wyborcza”. Liberals and reformists believe that Constitutional Tribunal is some sort of safeguard against tyranny. We don't share their illusions about the “state of law”; the Austrian constitutional tribunal was impotent in face of Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss's coup of 1933. The only ones who can stop outright dictatorship are the masses in the streets, but organised independently of all bourgeois parties (as the workers of Petrograd during the Kornilov putsch). The Constitutional Tribunal can act rather as a safeguard for elites against the “mob”, against reforms that would benefit the working class and the oppressed. And it has acted as such. For example in 2010 it repealed the by-law of the code of civil conduct that compelled bailiffs to withhold eviction until the local council assigned someone social housing. It declared as constitutional the raising of the retirement age. In 1996 it rejected the possibility of restoring abortion on demand.

Some leftists seem to think that PiS is some lesser evil. They say that we should give them some trust so that they may realise their vague, populist electoral promises. They deny this party's obvious anti-worker character. Even if PiS acted on its promises – which isn't going to happen in crisis-ridden capitalism (and it's promises aren't necessarily so pro-working class either, as we have seen), the appointment of such people as Morawiecki or Gowin as ministers indicates this – it will be achieved at the expense of specially oppressed groups: women, homosexuals, transsexuals (Duda some time ago vetoed the Gender Accordance Act, which would make their lives easier), and immigrants, for whom PiS's rule is bad news. We, communists, should be the champions of the oppressed. We can't just ignore assault on womens' reproductive rights, rampant clericalism and anti-immigrant racism (there were already several cases of attacks on “dark-skinned” people). However, most of the Polish left had no qualms about supporting clerical-nationalist Solidarność (which is responsible for the restriction on abortion rights), so it's not surprising that the more workerist of them are ready to give “critical support” to its offspring.

At this hour, Polish workers need to refer to the proud tradition of Polish communism, of the Communist Party of Poland, which, although eventually succumbing to Stalinisation, carried a heroic fight for democratic rights, being the only organised opposition to the consolidating quasi-fascist Piłsudski dictatorship. To the capitalist Poland of Pilsudski, which the PiS (but the PO too, as all of them are members of the former “Solidarność” camp) wants to bring back with all the authoritarianism, Polish chauvinism, extreme inequality, bigotry, vicious anti-communism and anti-Semitism, they must counterpose the Poland of Rosa Luxemburg.

Antoni Lulek

6 December 2015

[1] See leftcom.org

[2] A rock musician and “anti-establishment” “hero” who is in fact another face of Polish nationalism. His party is now represented in Parliament.

[3] Famous for the Balcerowicz Plan in the1990s which was a “shock therapy” to dismantle the old state apparatus of control of production and resulted in massive inflation for workers

Wednesday, December 9, 2015