Drawing the lines for Polish elections

June 19, 1991

By Sally Low

Poland's first free parliamentary elections are due in October. The outcome will be strongly affected by the way the present government and particularly President Lech Walesa react to growing dissatisfaction with their attempts to impose capitalism through the IMF-inspired economic shock treatment. Afraid of civil unrest, Walesa, supported by the country's new elites, could seek some kind of authoritarian powers.

"Sections of the old Communist nomenklatura [bureaucracy] have adapted to the market", says Joseph Pinior, coordinator of the Wroclaw Socialist and Political Centre. "Some people will use this as a pretext to call for de-communisation and a rapid move to clean capitalism or capitalism with a human face. They say our capitalism is bad because the nomenklatura still control the situation."

Against this background, several pro-capitalist parties are emerging, though they are still fairly weak. Two major groupings, Centre Alliance (or Centre Agreement) and the Democratic Union were formed out of Solidarity.

Centre Alliance is close to Walesa, although he is not a member. It calls itself Christian Democratic. The Democratic Union is former president Tadeusz Mazowiecki's party. Pinior describes them as both "completely pro-restoration". A wing of the Democratic Union around former leftists such as Jacek Kuron may, however, take a more liberal stand on some social issues.

Also in the spectrum of the parliamentary right is Prime Minister Jan Bielecki's Liberal Democratic Congress. This is a new pro-free-market party which hopes to receive 10-20% of the vote.

All of these groups support the increasingly unpopular Balcerowicz plan for capitalist restoration. They can choose to try to sell the electorate more of the same — falling wages, rising unemployment and closure of enterprises — or incur the wrath of the IMF by making some popular concession such as lifting the freeze on public sector wages.

A sign of the deep demoralisation and disillusionment felt by many Poles was the 23% vote for Canadian-Polish businessman Stanislaw Tyminski in the December presidential elections. Tyminski has now founded the "X Party" and claims 5500 adherents to his anti-Semitic, right nationalist, demagogy. Also on the far right is the Catholic fundamentalist Union of National Christians.

Polish farmers angry over the government's agricultural policies have moved to unite several rural-based parties and could also

attract up to 20% support.

At its dissolution congress in January 1990, the Polish United Workers Party (the former ruling Communist Party) split into two groups. The majority formed Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, while a smaller group lead by Tadeusz Fiszbach, who was the party leader in Gdansk, is close to Walesa, says Pinior.

In his view, the SDRP or sections of it have moved to the left around issues such as abortion and clericalism. While just beginning, he thinks, the process will continue because "there is no room for classical Social Democracy in Poland".

Those sections of the former bureaucracy who now profit from restoration support the Democratic Union rather than the SDRP. One important test, if it is to win the trust of other progressive forces, will be its willingness to make an adequate assessment of the past, especially the imposition of martial law. Reports of the May SDRP national congress say delegates rejected calls to debate that period on the ground that it would be too divisive.

Marek Mazurkiewicz, leader of the SDRP in Wroclaw, told Green Left his party models itself on West European Social Democracy. It rejects completely the former "dogmatic socialism" but opposes current attempts to impose a "19th century" style of capitalism.

"There are many models we could use that would include an effective market economy, not capitalist, but a market economy with very strong social politics like the Social Democratic projects in Scandinavia, West Germany and other European countries", he explained.

"Government's role should not just be to ensure profits but also to provide economic and social support for those who are less well off, and equal opportunity for all.

"There are some very practical ways to defend the values of democratic socialism or Social Democracy. We think there should be a third way. It should be a modern, pragmatic model with an effective market economy and various forms of ownership.

"In my opinion, bureaucratic socialism had nothing to do with socialism. In some ways it was closer to state capitalism." Lack of democracy in the old system — of any opposition strong enough to put forward alternatives and point out mistakes — was the major reason for its failure, he said. If such an opposition had been allowed to develop, then perhaps in 1956, during the 1970s or in 1981, the old system could have been reformed.

Membership of the SDRP is around 60,000. In the December presidential elections the candidate of the SDRP-dominated

left coalition received 1.5 million votes. In October, says Mazurkiewicz, they hope to form a similar coalition with women's groups, unionists, youth and unemployed organisations.

Mazurkiewicz also thinks alliances with the left that grew out of Solidarity will be possible in the future. For obvious historical reasons, however, "and very strong personal feelings on both sides", this will be a longer and more difficult process. "They see us as the continuation of the powers that oppressed them but this is not right; the situation has changed completely. I think we will be able to cooperate around concrete issues in the workplace and in parliament, and this could lead to more formal cooperation."

Joseph Pinior and other activists around the Socialist and Political Centre, some of whom are members of the Trotskyist Fourth International, are part of that left originating within Solidarity. The centre is a resource and support base for unionists and other progressive groups in Wroclaw.

Now is not the time to build another small party that will degenerate into a sect but "to be inside the working class, to encourage democratic resistance and organise study groups etc", says Pinior. "We must also develop an alternative to the Balcerowicz plan, defend the rights of women and other oppressed groups and work with all those forces who will protect democracy against authoritarianism." Out of this struggle it may be possible for a new, non sectarian, multi-current left party to emerge.

"Not only in Eastern Europe, but generally, the left has suffered a defeat. It is an objective factor that it has not been possible in the 20th century to build an alternative system to capitalism. Of course we Trotskyists know why, but people are not interested that 'back in the 1920s we said that Stalinism is etc etc'. It has simply not been possible for the left to build a viable alternative economy, state and society. So it has been a defeat.

"Of course in Poland there are still many possibilities: to defend democracy, to build some kind of new society and economy, different to Western Europe. And I think this decisive struggle in Poland is still before us. On the other hand, there is a real danger of some kind of authoritarianism."

If the political force with the will to protect democracy against authoritarianism is formed in Poland, it could also "provide the impulse for an alternative to Stalinism and capitalism in China and the USSR. I think it would be possible to create a more developed economy that uses the market but is an alternative to capitalism: more ecological, more democratic and controlled by workers. The objective factors for such a movement exist, but it

will only emerge over a long period."

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