Old sins and missed opportunities – the tragedy of Polish Socialdemocracy

No matter who wins the Polish elections in the end, the Social Democrats will not count them among their successes. Even if there is a space for social-oriented voters in Poland, these are different right-wing parties that would shape the future parliament. Why?

List number three: politicians running under a pinky-red banner of the New Left, with a couple of smaller partners – Left Together (a wanna-be Podemos) and the Polish Socialist Party, the oldest Polish political party now trying to re-establish itself. The newest opinion polls suggest they might get slightly more than 10 per cent of the vote, which gives a firm entrance into the parliament, but looks worse than their score in the previous elections, and does not guarantee any actual influence on power. All despite of the fact that the social-democratic (not socialist!) MPs did not do bad in the last four years.

The first and oldest actor on the left-wing stage in Poland is The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). It was founded as an electoral alliance of center-left parties, based on the new-old guard of the communist Polish United Workers’ Party in 1991. Between 1993 and 1997, and again between 2001 and 2005, it was the strongest political force in Poland, with four Prime Ministers: Józef Oleksy, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Leszek Miller, and Marek Belka. It subsequently sank into obscurity, in the shadow of the growth of the Civic Platform, PO, and the Law and Justice, PiS. Someone might ask why? And while the answer might be very elaborate, one can also sum things up: because the party was strongly corrupt and ideologically empty. Actually its only achievement before 2019 was their part in working out the conditions of Poland’s NATO and the EU-access. The greatest failure – to introduce neoliberal policies, when the public expected a social turn. In the end, the party who gathered more than 40 per cent of the vote at one point, saw the voters disperse. The workers who voted for it went straight to the Law and Justice, the intellectuals or middle class to Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform.  

Spring (Polish: Wiosna) was a social-liberal and pro-European political party in Poland led by Robert Biedroń, a former mayor of Słupsk and also active LGBT+ community activist, known for his staunch fighting spirit when it comes to the human rights. The party started in 2019, just before election to the European Parliament. Hoping to become the third force in Polish politics, with just 6.1% of support in this election, Biedroń and his friends felt cold breath on their backs. An unwanted marriage with SLD was a logical next step.

On October 9, 2021, the party convened its unification convention, with two factions, Wiosna and SLD as parts of one party called the New Left.

Was there any potential in this party? It was like two people with zero funds set a joint venture under a banner “you have nothing, I have nothing, together we have something”. What was born was something like French Parti Radical: some liberals, some soft left-wingers, people dissatisfied with the Civic Platform. No ideology and no freshness, and even no attempt to pretend so.

Carmine revolutionaries 

The Left Together Party (or simply Together – Razem in Polish) started as a movement aimed against the post-communist left, and against their policy of not-hearing the voices of the working class and precariat representatives. It had its movementum. In the 2015’s electoral debate, just before parliamentary elections, Adrian Zandberg, a long active militant, gave a tremendous show, which gave a newborn party more than 3% of the votes. He was really the best guy in this debate, even according to paleo-liberal mainstream of Poland. The result was too weak to enter the parliament, but significant enough to secure state co-funding for the party. And, most probably, also to block the social-democrats (SLD and allies, in the not-so-neoliberal version), from entering the parliament, as the left-wing vote was divided.

Nevertheless, the strong campaign against the Razem in liberal media, which seek scapegoats on the left whenever their political padroni fail, pushed step by step Razem into an alliance with previous opponents. Razem quieted down its criticism of the post-communist left and entered into a loose coalition in the 2019 elections. This effectively ended the history of the Polish Podemos, even though Razem people are undoubtedly more active and more social-oriented than the New Left politicians. And their programmatic influence on New Left was sometimes remarkable: right now are talking openly about creating a state developer who would address the tremendously huge lack on the housing market, which leads to skyrocketing prices on a daily basis. 

What’s more the Razem militants always try to support trade unions, private sector employees, teachers in the public sector or even miners. They always try to be close to them, and actively fight for their right, especially the right to strike and organize. Showing on the picket lines is a mighty change from shady negotiations in smoked rooms of trade unions or party offices from the era of the SLD, the time of the 90’ and the beginning of the second millennium. 

Old sins 

During all of these post-communist years of history of the Polish political scene, one might argue, and that would be also myself, that there is some kind of a gen of self destruction, some kind of Thanatos drive that leads the left in Poland. Even though the left came back to power shortly after the collapse of the Polish People’s Republic, during the years of 1993-1995, and even later at the beginning of the new millennium, it was always a hostage of its promises which were not delivered, and a lack of resources which could have been gained – but were not.

During all of these years, till now, the left has never created any sort of meaningful newspaper or an intellectual environment with strong think tanks. Like in the meme from Pulp Fiction with John Travolta: there is literally nothing. If something was set up in the ranks of the left, it was right away taken by briefcase carriers of the leaders, thus it was just another profitable job for the ideologically corrupt do-nothing cuckolds. When it was done by some people disappointed by the mainstream left, it was right away destroyed by the left itself, as the social-democrats preferred to keep the cordon sanitaire around the ‘radicals’ not to get attacked by the liberal media again.

On the other side, the right and neoliberals have created myriads of think tanks, newspapers, social media groups and organizations, with the most important Gazeta Wyborcza, which was created right after the collapse of the Polish People’s Republic. The words written in this neoliberal newspaper are taken seriously by the left  as if they were hostages to whatever is written there, the same goes for other media on the liberal side. The right-wing media, no matter how biased they can be, sometimes treat the left, especially the Razem party much more justly.

As one of my friends told me, the left gains voters mainly in the middle class. Not the popular class, but rather the middle class, which is frequently more educated, resides in cities, has management or corporate jobs. In the end in Poland, individuals who deem the other parties to be excessively religious, conservative, and chauvinistic, most of them could be described as intellectuals or cultural elites, tend to vote for the left rather than the desperate proletariat. The left’s purpose in these elections is to represent the middle class in parliament and avoid a situation where there are only right-wing parties on the Polish political landscape. Just like it happened in 2015. Working class voters could profit from the social-democratic programme being introduced? Surely. But the social-democrats barely know how to reach them.

Lost opportunities 

The alliance that once wanted to change completely the political game in Poland by introducing socliberal revolution, like Wiosna and Robert Biedron, or social-scandinavian one, as  Razem proposed right now is playing along the scenario of not losing and not winning. Rafał Kalukin, a hard line liberal commentator, called this strategy a “silent march”, and it is really a quiet one. The lists of left-wing alliances are full of people who are unknown for most of the voters, a lot of them very young. Some candidates were chosen in order to create a situation in which party nominees, who are known to be problematic, would get more votes, by dividing the vote between two or three other persons. This is an impression that one has when looking at the Warsaw list: local socialliberal politician Agata Diduszko-Zyglewska, Razem spokesperson Dorota Olko and a writer Jacek Dehnel seem to be on the list just to make sure that Anna Maria Żukowska, SLD hardliner, gets a parliamentary seat.

There is no coherent vision than creating a coalition government with PO, Donald Tusk and his neoliberal friends. Even the program of the coalition, which until recently consisted of proposals with calculations, taxes named and introduced in detail, right now is full of slogans, but less concrete proposals or numbers, when it comes to economy. There is even some infighting between the coalition members: some election leaflets and campaign papers are not coming, some are written without Razem approval and so on. What will come out of this? We will see. 

In any case, the biggest loser of all these equations is the Razem party. Militants from the Left Together might have created a rightful opposition to the people who killed the left-wing values in Poland, thus becoming at the same time an anti-systemic party, just like now the Confederacy, a right wing party full of fascists and paleo-liberals. However they did not do that. Preferring to enter the coalition with their former enemies, they seem to be happy with having 6 persons in the parliament and pushing the New Left into more left-wing direction. The more radical comrades of the Polish Socialist Party at the same time are fighting to get their representative in the parliament, and cannot be sure of a success neither.

If the New Left plays along the neoliberal game of the PO, the Civic Coalition and Donald Tusk, Razem might choose to regain independence in the end. This might be a game changer for the left in Poland. But this can happen only after the elections. This campaign is entirely for and against Law and Justice. Is there going to be a place for left-wing narration in the future, without any kind of base behind the backs of politicians and militants? There is no good answer right now.

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