Workers Hammer No. 235
Polish government targets immigrants, women, leftists
We print below the translation of an article from Platforma Spartakusowców no 20 (April 2016), newspaper of the Spartakusowska Grupa Polski, Polish section of the International Communist League. This translation first appeared in Workers Vanguard no 1090 (20 May 2016).
Since its victory in the parliamentary elections last October, the clerical-chauvinist Law and Justice (PiS) Party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski has launched a series of rapid-fire measures aimed at stifling dissent and implementing its reactionary agenda. While the PiS previously led a coalition government a decade ago, and Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw’s twin brother, was president until his death in 2010, this is the first time since the restoration of capitalism in Poland in 1989-90 that a single party controls the presidency and both the Senate and the Sejm [the lower chamber of parliament]. With Kaczynski firmly in charge from the backseat, President Andrzej Duda, elected in May 2015, and newly elected Prime Minister Beata Szydlo have rushed to consolidate the party’s grip on the state administration.
The state media, the civil service and the heads of the military, the police, the special (intelligence) services and state-owned companies have been purged and replaced by regime loyalists. The Constitutional Tribunal, which is perceived by the PiS as an obstacle on the road to total control, has been paralysed. Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro, who held the same post in the previous PiS government, will have the power to intervene in any investigation and to utilise illegally obtained evidence. The planned law on “anti-terrorist activities” vastly expands the powers of the intelligence services and police for spying and repression, especially against foreigners. Published materials will be censored for “injuring or defaming the Polish Republic or the Polish nation”. The new government also plans to create a 35,000-strong territorial defence militia this year. Drawn from existing paramilitary formations, many of them fascist, this militia is to be used against immigrants and other “threats” to “state security” (ncss.org.pl, 5 April). All of this has been accompanied by a steady fusillade of threats against immigrants, Muslims, Jews, women and leftists, including a frontal assault on what few reproductive rights women retain in Catholic-dominated capitalist Poland.
The PiS scored just less than 38 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary election, but this was enough to defeat the former governing coalition, Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Joining these parties in the Sejm are the “free market” Nowoczesna [Modern] party of banker Ryszard Petru and the reactionary populist Kukiz’15 coalition led by rock star Pawel Kukiz, which includes a number of legislators from the fascistic National Movement. The PiS was able to get an absolute majority in the Sejm because several parties failed to get the minimum number of votes needed for parliamentary representation. These include the Razem [Together] Party, a petty-bourgeois grouping that stands for a more “social” way of managing capitalism. Also absent from the Sejm is the social-democratic Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a product of the Stalinist ruling party in the former Polish People’s Republic (PRL), which ran as part of a bourgeois coalition. The SLD was already marginalised in the 2005 parliamentary elections, a result of its many years of betrayals of the working people.
The measures introduced by the PiS government have provoked a wave of mass demonstrations beginning last December, something not seen in this country for many years. These protests have been led by the newly established Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), supported by Nowoczesna and PO. Demonstrating under national and European Union (EU) flags “in defence of the Constitution”, the KOD has criticised the regime’s violation of the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers. The KOD’s name recalls the KOR (Workers Defence Committee), which in the late 1970s and ’80s played a pivotal role in the formation of Solidarność, and its rallies attract mainly older generations of supporters of the Solidarność counterrevolution of 1989-90. Razem has also organised several small demonstrations. And beginning in April, there has been a wave of protests against plans to outlaw abortion under all circumstances. The Spartacist Group of Poland, section of the International Communist League, has intervened in the anti-government protests with our unique line in opposition to Solidarność counterrevolution and for a Leninist workers party that champions the cause of all the oppressed.
Both the PiS and the bourgeois opposition rely on anti-communism. While the KOD accuses the PiS of acting like the old Stalinist regime, PiS leader Kaczynski labels his opponents “communists and thieves” and “the worst sort of Poles”. Pawel Kukiz, a sometime PiS ally, asserts that the KOD is financed by a “Jewish banker”. Another parliamentarian, Kornel Morawiecki, invokes the language of Hitler lieutenant Hans Frank, who ran the Nazi administration of occupied Poland, ranting that, “Law is not sacred. The good of the nation is above it.... If it does not serve the nation, it is lawlessness.” The PiS and Kukiz’15 benches in the Sejm erupted in a standing ovation for these words. In the 1980s Morawiecki was the founder and leader of an underground counterrevolutionary group, Fighting Solidarność.
Solidarność counterrevolution meant poverty for working people
The PiS and PO can both rightly claim the mantle of Solidarność. The future PO and PiS leaders were politically shaped as reactionaries by that movement. The “neoliberal”, pro-EU policy of the PO (represented by current EU “president” Donald Tusk) is one face of Solidarność; the overtly chauvinist, clericalist and populist stance of the PiS is the other. Solidarność promised that the overthrow of the PRL deformed workers state and the embrace of the Western bankers and the US-led anti-Soviet NATO alliance would usher in a second “miracle on the Vistula” [where Jozef Pilsudski’s imperialist-backed Polish forces stopped the Red Army advance on Warsaw in 1920] in the form of instant Western-style prosperity. The PiS claims that this promise was betrayed by a cabal of former “Communists” and their agents (supposedly including Solidarność leader Lech Walesa!) working in cahoots with foreign capitalists. This appeal to the millions of disgruntled Polish workers and farmers who do not have access to the luxuries of the newly rich is garnished with a sprinkling of populist proposals to benefit “real” Poles, such as an increase in family child benefits and a return to the previous age of retirement, which the PO had raised.
The truth is that Walesa, the Kaczynskis and Tusk all share responsibility for the impoverishment of the working people, which was the inevitable result of the victory of Solidarność. From the moment Solidarność consolidated around a programme for capitalist counterrevolution at its founding congress in September 1981, we described it as an instrument of the CIA, the Vatican and the Western bankers and raised the call: “Stop Solidarność Counterrevolution!” In December 1981, we supported General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s military deployment to spike an attempt by Solidarność to seize power, writing:
“Lech Walesa’s Solidarność was moving to overthrow not merely the corrupt and discredited Stalinist regime, but social gains inherited from the Bolshevik Revolution — centrally a collectivized planned economy — which were bureaucratically extended to Poland after the Red Army liberated the country from Nazi occupation. That is why this Polish ‘free trade union’ is supported by the forces of imperialist reaction.”
— “Solidarność Counterrevolution Checked: Power Bid Spiked”, Workers Vanguard no 295, 18 December 1981
Trotskyists struggled for proletarian political revolution to replace the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy with the rule of workers councils based on defence of the socialised property.
The collectivisation of the Polish economy and the consolidation of a workers state in the late 1940s, though bureaucratically deformed from its inception, represented an enormous gain for the working people. For the first time, the masses had universal access to free education and healthcare, to jobs for all and apartments. New schools, kindergartens, hospitals, apartment blocks and factories were built across the country. Gone were the Pilsudskiite and Endek (National Democrat) reactionaries who had ruled interwar Poland for the benefit of the British and French imperialists — imprisoning Communists, drowning workers struggles in blood, persecuting Jews, Ukrainians and other minorities. The retrograde Catholic hierarchy no longer had a stranglehold over the populace: education became secular and abortion was available on demand.
These gains were achieved at considerable cost: some 600,000 Red Army soldiers who died in liberating the country from Nazi tyranny. Many more Soviet soldiers, Polish Communists and Jews who survived the Holocaust were slaughtered after World War II by cut-throat reactionary gangs, remnants of the Home Army today known as the “cursed soldiers”, who sought a return to the old order. However, the workers state was also undermined by the nationalism and bureaucratic mismanagement of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Three times — in 1956, 1970 and 1976 — the workers rose up against Stalinist misrule, opening a perspective of a proletarian political revolution, whose victory would have resulted in workers democracy and a restoration of the revolutionary and internationalist traditions of the historically pro-socialist Polish proletariat personified by Rosa Luxemburg.
But Solidarność, after emerging from a mass strike at the Gdansk shipyard in 1980, was different. It spurned those revolutionary traditions and instead embraced Pilsudski, Pope Wojtyla and the anti-Soviet and anti-union US president, Ronald Reagan. Once in power, Solidarność dismantled the collectivised economy and instituted an imperialist-dictated economic “shock therapy” that reduced the working people to penury. Among the earliest acts of the Solidarność government was the suppression of a rail strike in the Pomerania region in 1990. Presiding over the assault on the living standards of the Polish masses were not only the precursors of PO, but Walesa and his allies of the time, the Kaczynski twins. Jaroslaw Kaczynski helped in Walesa’s campaign when he won the presidency in late 1990.
Following the capitalist reunification of Germany, our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party of Germany warned in a June 1990 “Letter to Polish Workers”:
“Now Solidarność has taken over the reins of government. What has this brought you? You are being forced to suffer the kind of economic ‘shock treatment’ usually carried out by Latin American juntas. You are being bled white by the Frankfurt bankers, by Wall Street and by the world bankers cartel, the International Monetary Fund....
“Now you are threatened with being turned into vassals by German imperialism in its drive for a Fourth Reich.”
— Reprinted in Workers Vanguard no 504, 15 June 1990
Solidarność served as the spearhead for capitalist counterrevolution throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. (Its consolidation as a pro-capitalist movement is documented in Platforma Spartakusowców no 14, Summer 2007, translated from the 1981 Spartacist pamphlet, “Solidarność — Polish Company Union for CIA and Bankers.”) The restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union, homeland of the October Revolution of 1917, was a historic defeat for workers and the oppressed around the globe, fuelling economic misery and internecine conflict and encouraging the imperialists to ride roughshod over weaker countries and peoples. We in the ICL are proud that we stood at our posts from Berlin to Moscow, throwing our forces into the struggle to defend the endangered workers states against the wave of counterrevolution in 1989-92 and fighting for proletarian political revolutions.
In contrast, the fake-Trotskyist social democrats enthusiastically embraced Solidarność. Among those were the predecessors of Socialist Alternative, affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International, and Employee Democracy (PD), linked to the British Socialist Workers Party founded by Tony Cliff. These groups went on to hail [Boris] Yeltsin’s counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92 and have since spent many years tailing after various Solidarność splinters. Most recently, the Polish Cliffites called for a vote for the petty-bourgeois Razem, which embraces the “democratic opposition” against the former workers state (partiarazem.pl, 7 November 2015).
Anti-immigrant racism fuelled PiS electoral victory
The elections took place amid a crisis in the EU over the mass wave of immigration to Europe, intensified by imperialist bombing and civil war in Syria and imperialist depredations elsewhere in the Near East and Africa. Kaczynski used the election campaign to denounce immigrants for allegedly using churches in Italy as toilets and to proclaim that there were “sharia enclaves” in Sweden and other countries in Western Europe that the police could not enter. Echoing [Nazi propagandist Joseph] Goebbels’s racist propaganda against the Jews in occupied Poland during World War II, he railed against Muslim immigrants introducing “cholera on Greek islands; dysentery in Vienna; various types of parasites, protozoa, which aren’t dangerous in the organisms of these people, but which could be dangerous here”. Such racist poison is also seen in Poland’s southern neighbours: it dominated the recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia, from re-elected social-democratic prime minister Robert Fico to the fascists.
The PiS victory has further emboldened the fascist gangs that proliferated in the wake of the counterrevolution. The fascists have staged numerous anti-Muslim rallies and marches as well as physical attacks against immigrants. Anti-immigrant rallies are ten times bigger than pro-immigrant ones. On 11 November 2015, the biggest ever “Independence March” in Warsaw drew 70,000 fascists and their sympathisers marching under the slogan “Poland for Poles”. Among the slogans chanted was “Non-Islamic, non-secular — Great Catholic Poland!” and the old Fighting Solidarność chant, “On the trees, instead of leaves, Communists will be hanging.” An anti-Muslim march organised the same day by the fascist NOP in Wroclaw numbered 10,000. In today’s Poland, it is not only Syrian refugees who suffer from brutal beatings, but also Chilean, Indian and other immigrants. In the town of Limanowa near Krakow, Roma (Gypsy) community homes were covered with racist slogans last November while anti-immigrant posters appeared with the call: “No to an Islamic district in our town!” This was followed by a PiS politician calling to “disperse” the Roma “ghetto”.
The previous Civic Platform government of Ewa Kopacz also contributed to the current anti-immigrant wave. While shying away from accepting the quota of Syrian refugees imposed by the EU, Kopacz announced last May that as a “Christian country” Poland would take in 60 families of Syrian Christians. Finally, the EU-loyal PO-PSL government agreed to admit about 7000 Syrian refugees in 2016-17. However, PiS government officials have frequently stated that they won’t admit any immigrants, with Prime Minister Szydlo saying: “I don’t see any possibility of migrants coming to Poland at the moment”, claiming that they might be “terrorists” (superstacja.tv, 23 March).
Today the bourgeoisie seizes on Muslims as a convenient scapegoat to redirect the social anger provoked by capitalist exploitation, placing them on the list of “Poland’s enemies” alongside homosexuals and Jews. Hitler’s war against “Jew-Bolshevism” fit in neatly with the Polish nationalist myth of a “Jewish-Communist” conspiracy against Poland. After the counterrevolution, the Polish bourgeoisie enshrined in its 1997 constitution the despicable equation of communism with Hitlerite fascism. A new chapter in this murderous mythology has been added by Szydlo’s minister of national defence, Antoni Macierewicz, a notorious fan of the anti-Jewish tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Macierewicz claims that “terrorism” is “a product of socialist-Soviet thought”, which he blames for “provoking a giant wave of people’s migration, which is to destabilise the whole European continent” (tv-trwam.pl, 11 March). He later added that such “terrorism” has its “media form”, as exemplified by the “leafleting activities of the Bolshevik army in 1939” (wyborcza.pl, 17 March).
These anti-communist tirades amount to a threat that disseminating leaflets propagating socialist ideas or defending immigrants might bring accusations of “terrorism” by the Polish capitalist state. If any class-conscious worker has doubts about whether to defend immigrants against racist attacks, you should keep in mind that your trade union or leftist organisation is next in the crosshairs of the same capitalist state and the fascist goon squads. Down with the anti-immigrant and anti-communist witch hunt!
The working class is the only social class that has the power and interest to champion all the oppressed on the road to ousting the class rule of the bourgeoisie and replacing it with a socialised planned economy under the rule of workers councils. This understanding was formulated by Lenin in What is to be done? (1902): the vanguard of the working class, represented by the revolutionary party, should act as the “tribune of the people”. Lenin’s Bolshevik party fulfilled this role, as was evident in the composition of the first revolutionary government of Soviet Russia, many members of which came from various oppressed peoples of the tsarist “prison house of peoples”. For example, Trotsky was Jewish, Stalin was Georgian and Felix Dzerzhinsky — who was the first leader of the Cheka, the Soviet commission to combat counterrevolution — was Polish.
As revolutionary Marxists, we don’t give advice to the bourgeoisie on its immigration quotas. The call for “open borders” raised by some bourgeois liberals and leftist groups reflects illusions in the EU as a superstate, moreover one representing a “social Europe”; these are bourgeois myths. We call on the working class to struggle for full citizenship rights for all immigrants who are in this country. For worker/minority mobilisations to stop fascist attacks! No to racist deportations!
Reactionary Catholic offensive against women
The government’s election promise of 500 zlotys [£90] in [monthly] benefits for every child a family has after the first one, aimed at enhancing its populist stance, will actually serve to reinforce the oppressive bourgeois family and help drive women out of the labour market. The PiS electoral victory has fuelled social reaction across the board and encouraged the Catholic church in its attacks on women, sexual minorities and youth, as seen for example in plans to bar access to the “morning after” pill without a prescription, which will especially affect young women.
More recently, Kaczynski and Szydlo spoke out in favour of a renewed initiative by the Catholic hierarchy for a total ban on abortion. The existing law, enacted in 1993, overturned the right to abortion under the deformed workers state. The 1993 law is called a “compromise” because it allows for abortion when the foetus is seriously deformed, when pregnancy poses an immediate threat to the woman’s life or health or is the result of rape or incest — and even then only if the doctor’s “conscience” allows for performing an abortion. But a total ban on abortion remains widely unpopular, especially among poor and working-class women who cannot afford to travel outside the country to get one. When the bishops issued a diktat to Catholics demanding support for a total ban, it sparked a series of mass demonstrations against the “torture of women”, complemented by dramatic staged walkouts from churches as the priests were reading the pastoral letter during Sunday mass.
Initiated by Razem, the protests were soon taken over by a coalition of feminist and other “non-party” groups hoping to attract the KOD, whose support for democratic rights goes no further than defending the draconian 1993 “compromise”. But not all protesters accept the shackles fashioned by Solidarność counterrevolution, as shown by a chant at a rally in front of the Sejm on 9 April: “Liberty, equality, abortion on demand!” We say: Free abortion on demand as part of quality healthcare for all! Down with the concordat! For strict separation of church and state! A revolutionary workers government would expropriate all church properties in Poland. As history has shown, women will be among the most tenacious fighters for a socialist revolution.
Down with NATO and the EU!
The imperialist overlords of the EU hypocritically wring their hands over the new government’s threats to the “rule of law”. But the PiS regime simply ignored an appeal by the EU’s Venice Commission that “Warsaw end a standoff with its highest court by accepting a ruling that the government broke the law” (ft.com, 11 March). US Republican Senator John McCain, joined by two Democrats, wrote an open letter to Szydlo appealing to “shared democratic values” and expressing concern that the government’s actions against the Constitutional Tribunal and state media “undermine Poland’s role as a democratic model for other countries in the region”. Szydlo replied: “The interest and good will of the American politicians cannot be changed into instructing and imposing actions concerning my fatherland” (reuters.com, 14 February).
Notwithstanding this cynical charade, the PiS is not about to snub its imperialist patrons nor are Washington and the EU about to cut off Poland. On 16 February, the New York Times published a grovelling piece by PiS foreign affairs minister Witold Waszczykowski. This avowed “Islamophobe” pointed to Poland’s “shared history and values” with the US and boasted: “Poland takes its NATO obligations very seriously”, especially in opposing “Russia’s aggression”. Waszczykowski ran through capitalist Poland’s long history of service to US imperialism, from troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq to its agreement to host an American missile base targeting Putin’s capitalist Russia.
Even after the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, the Polish bourgeoisie retained its deep-seated anti-Russian chauvinism. Defence Minister Macierewicz insists that Russia has been at war with Poland since the presidential plane crashed in 2010 while landing in fog in [the Russian city of] Smolensk, killing Lech Kaczynski and much of Poland’s military and political elite. Without any evidence, Macierewicz claims the plane was blown up by Russia. Kaczynski and Co were on their way to a commemoration of the Polish officers killed by Stalin’s secret police in 1940 in the Katyn forest. As we wrote earlier on Katyn:
“Revolutionary Marxists do not support the indiscriminate killing of the bourgeois officer caste any more than that of factory owners or bourgeois politicians. (Those personally responsible for crimes and atrocities against the working masses are another matter; they will certainly be subject to revolutionary justice.) Nevertheless, Katyn is not a crime against the Polish working people. These were the military officers of a fascistic, anti-Semitic dictatorship which regularly butchered workers and even bourgeois dissidents.”
— “Pilsudski and Counterrevolution in Poland”, Workers Vanguard no 293, 20 November 1981
For its part, US imperialism needs Poland not only as a model for “democratic” counterrevolution in the remaining deformed workers states (China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos) but also as a springboard for NATO provocations against Russia. The Obama administration has sent a stream of diplomats to Poland to make sure that the NATO summit to be held in Warsaw in July goes smoothly. The summit is to be preceded by military manoeuvres near Russia’s western flank involving 25,000 troops from 24 countries. No to US troops and bases in Poland! Down with NATO!
That working people look to the PiS (and rightist and fascist formations elsewhere) because of its chauvinist “Euroskeptic” stance speaks to the bankruptcy of the social democrats who embrace the EU. Originating as an economic adjunct to the anti-Soviet NATO alliance, the European Union is a reactionary imperialist-dominated consortium, with Germany on top, whose purpose is to better squeeze sweat from the workers in their own countries and more effectively dominate the weakest countries, like Greece today. We Trotskyists oppose this imperialist project from the standpoint of proletarian internationalism. Likewise, we opposed the extension of the EU in 2004 (when Poland joined). The European imperialists raised a series of criteria for entry into the EU that represented a programme of brutal social attacks. For example, in Poland the significantly reduced mining sector was “rendered competitive”, that is, miners were laid off en masse and pits were closed. Unemployment compensation was so low that it was not enough for survival. Referring to the fact that the German car manufacturer Opel [a subsidiary of General Motors] paid lower wages at its factory in Poland, our German comrades wrote:
“Workers in Germany must help workers in Poland to fight for decent wages and working conditions against the greed for capitalist profits which was unleashed by the counterrevolution. For this, a revolutionary party is necessary, based on a programme of internationalist class struggle. Ultimately, only a planned economy under the control of the working class can eliminate the glaring economic and social differences between various countries.”
—Spartakist no 157, Winter 2004-5
It is necessary to fight for workers revolutions to sweep away all the European bourgeoisies on the road to the formation of a Socialist United States of Europe. It will take a massive expansion of the forces of production under the rule of the proletariat to lay the basis for a world socialist order, which will finally transcend the historically obsolete framework of nation-states and put an end to hunger, oppression and war. Down with the imperialist EU!
As the PiS intends to build a strong “national” industry out of the myriad of small and medium Polish-owned factories which flourished on the remnants of the once significant socialised industrial base destroyed after the counterrevolution, it will increase the exploitation of the proletariat in Poland. In order to struggle effectively against the reactionary PiS regime, Polish workers must counterpose proletarian internationalist solidarity to chauvinism and defend the democratic rights of all the oppressed in capitalist society. Inspired by the legacy of the “Three L’s” — Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht — the proletariat must once again fight for the revolutionary unity of the Russian, Polish and German workers. The aim of the SGP is to build a revolutionary workers party, modelled on the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky. For new October Revolutions! For the reforging of Trotsky’s Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution!