About the left wing in the shadow of the right wing
Wieslawa Lewandowska talks to Dr. Tomasz Zukowski about the extraordinary environment of the post-communist centre-right wing and the quite new left wing.
Wieslawa Lewandowska: – Till 20 June 2010 we seemed to have had a stable, two-party political system: two centre-right parties having common roots; the difference being distrust rather than programmes. And unexpectedly – the public opinion polls did not show that – voters revive the left-wing party, giving its candidate almost 14 % of their votes.
Dr. Wojciech Zukowski: – I think that the common opinion about some revival of the Polish left-wing is exaggerated and even false to some extent.
– The result of the election is not such a big surprise as the media presented. Bronislaw Komorowski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, representing the biggest parties in Poland, having their roots in the Trade Union Solidarity, entered the second round of the presidential election. The result of the left-wing candidate Grzegorz Napieralski was not bigger than the result his Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) had alone or in various coalitions before. The terrible result of Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL) has not changed much. Traditionally, the PSL candidates have had troubles to mobilise their political back-up in the presidential elections. But the parliamentary and local government elections are more important to them.
– You underestimate the result of the SLD leader?
– The victory of Grzegorz Napieralski is indeed an interesting phenomenon, which can – although needn’t – turn out important in the long-term. But for the time being, it is only the confirmation of the position that SLD preserved after its big defeat in 2005, his role of the third party with over 10% support. That was the result of the Alliance in 2005, and similarly the result of the Left and Democrats in 2007. Looking at it from this perspective it is status quo.
– But in the sense that Napieralski did not enter the second round of the presidential election since the unexpectedly high support for the third party is, however, a novelty and politically speaking, it is something?
– If we must speak about ‘novelty’ it is the fact that Napieralski saved his party from marginalisation, which many observers expected, and which resulted from winning leftist voters by the candidate of Civic Platform already in the first round of the presidential election. But it did not happen despite many efforts of the ‘historical’ leaders of the Alliance (especially Kalisz, Olejniczak and Cimoszewicz). On 20 June the majority of the SLD ‘barons’ (excluding Miller and partly Kwasniewski), but only part of the ‘hard’ electorate of this party, supported Komorowski. The remaining part voted for Napieralski who won extra new socially-oriented young voters outside of the traditional post-communist den. The score of this rivalry was over 10 % support for the present SLD leader. This does not cause any change in the present Parliament.
– So you might not have heard the media and politicians who predicted ‘the birth of some civilised, European left’ in Poland and the coming of ‘euronormality’!
– I have heard them but I dare to have a different opinion. I really think that it is exaggeration. The very loud diagnoses of a considerable part of the media, especially the commercial stations (and the public Programme II), that we are dealing with something great, are not connected with the scale of the phenomenon but rather with a huge desire of many environments (not only here in Warsaw but in many European capitals) to have a strong left-wing in the Polish politics – an anti-Church formation, which rejects (or at least criticises) the other Polish collective identities. A formation that would strengthen – in case of successful elections in Poland – the influences of the left in the whole European Union. Since we must know that the domination of Civic Platform and Law and Justice in the Polish political scene moves the centre of gravity to the right in the whole European system of political parties. We are quite a big country and pushing the left to the role of ‘the mediocre’ in the shadow of ‘the big’ changes the structure of the European Parliament. Some fractions lose (the left-wing, the liberals) and some gain (especially the conservatives thanks to the strong position of Law and Justice).
– The foreign and national commentators regard the domination of the centre-right Civic Platform and Law and Justice as a pathology of the Polish political system.
– Thus one should say (I am curious whether anyone would be courageous enough) that we have dealt with such a pathology (for many years) in the USA and Ireland… Nonsense! The Polish system of political parties has been shaped by our difficult history, including the social and economic choices of the last two decades. We cannot adjust our democracy to the experiences of the other part of Europe. The fact is that in the EU scene we have two main political circles: Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, out of whom some is so ‘moderate’ that they would be eager to remove the adjective ‘Christian’ from the name of their party… (In the European forum Polish members of Civic Platform is in coalition with Christian Democrats.) What is natural in France or Germany need not be natural in Poland. I would even say: the course of events in Great Britain (weak left-wing and stronger liberals) could testify that our divisions can react better to the new civilisational challenges than the Western European ones, formed several decades ago, i.e. in a different epoch. I can add that in the European Parliament there is another division, in a way alternative: followers of stronger and weaker European integration. The group of followers of weaker integration consists of the British Conservatives and Polish members of Law and Justice. I will repeat this because it is really very important. From the European perspective the present political situation in Poland (and especially the existence of strong Law and Justice) means structural weakening of the left in the whole of Europe and strengthening one party of the dispute about the degree of EU integration. That’s why there is such a big demand for the Polish left-wing in so many places; the left-wing that would fit the main European (or rather ‘Brussels’) stream of defining this circle.
– What is the present Polish left-wing with over 10 % of support – is it not post-communist?
– The matter what the left-wing is and what it should be has been the subject of internal disputes – still unsolved – in the Polish left-wing environment. Today we have basically two main streams of the left-wing. The first one exposes its ideological identity strongly, refers to the new political correctness, emphasising the importance of moral minorities, aversion towards the Church. It imitates (or as some may wish to say ‘follows’) the models of the left thinking popular in the rich Western European countries. This kind of leftism is present in the Warsaw intellectual saloons in the most intensive way. You can hardly find it among ordinary people. The other refers to the traditions of class conflicts in the 20th century. It stresses the subjects of social disproportions, social issues. For them the problem of differences concerning morals is of less importance. They are anti-clerical in their relationships with the Church but contrary to the ‘saloon left’ they do not rather believe in God. The post-communist left-wing of the 1990s tries to be in both niches. Its den was, however, different: the post-communist sentiment of a considerable part of society and the resources of the former communist nomenclature, which is being changed into the capitalist middle class.
– Since the post-communist sentiments make them exist.
– That’s right. With time the resources of the Polish post-communist began to shrink. The next generations, becoming mature during the period of the Third Polish Republic, regard the Polish People’s Republic as a poorly attractive part of the past, known mainly from TV comedies: ‘Mis’ [Bear] or ‘Zmiennicy’ [Changers]. The post-communist business elites did not win with the powerful international capital groups that dynamically entered the Polish market.
– After the first round of the presidential election one had to observe winning the left over to one side: which of the two presidential candidates would attract the left electorate for good?
– The research shows that the electorate of Grzegorz Napieralski favours Bronislaw Komorowski, for instance on the principle of ‘anti-PiS community’...
– Moreover, Bronislaw Komorowski immediately promised the left electorate to support financing in vitro fertilisation! Is it not enough to attract the ‘new’ left?
– We will see it soon. As we know Grzegorz Napieralski did not officially support the Parliament Speaker and Jaroslaw Kaczynski. We can suppose that his electorate will vote for both. The majority of the ‘moral left’ and those who are most strongly connected with the post-communist elites will certainly join Komorowski whereas the social left and leftist ‘servants to the state’ can look at Kaczynski with greater favour. It is worth adding that both main heroes, trying to win the left-wing electorate, pay the cost of the necessary – because of the logic of the second round of the presidential election – operation. Kaczynski – voices of discontent of its most anti-communist wing and Komorowski (involved in ‘luring’ the left more than his rival) – a possible flow of the electorate from the PO left-wing to the Alliance. The cost for Civic Platform could be high in the next local government election.
– So we have an important question: what the present Polish left-wing directed by Grzegorz Napieralski is and what will it be like?
– Today we can say that it is fairly dynamic. Thrown as a prey Grzegorz Napieralski, supported by the local apparatus of the Alliance and the fraction associated with Leszek Miller, became involved in the campaign very intensively and drew numerous young leftists, too young to be post-communists…
– That’s why Jaroslaw Kaczynski, trying to convince them to his vision a little, declared that there were no post-communists but only the left-wing?
– One could add that a considerable part of the post-communists joined the group of Bronislaw Komorowski in the first round of the presidential election…One can also say that an interesting environment of the post-communist fraction in the Polish, liberal centre-right is being formed! Coming back to Napieralski’s electorate, it is a mixture of what is post-communist and what is left. The latter element is proportionally bigger than all the former groups of the Left Alliance.
– So we can speak of a completely new left-wing?
– One can speak about a new tendency, which can mean an emergence of a Polish formation that will have more leftist than post-communist ideology (although it will preserve a very influential wing rooted in the Polish People’s Republic). Anyway, its leader is associated with left-wing rather than with post-communism.
– What will the new left-wing be like? Can we expect an expansion of secular values, struggle against religion and the Church when it becomes powerful?
– The issue is being settled. There are such European countries in which the left does not quarrel with God a lot, and there are such countries – more of them – in which the left-wing tries to destroy God. It is enough to read the commentaries of the publicists of the most influential Polish newspapers on the future of the Alliance to see a clash of the followers of these two options. Some incline Napieralski to build a pro-social formation, rather anti-clerical (socially-oriented Catholics rather prefer Law and Justice or the PSL in villages) but acknowledging the role of religion in the identity of the Polish people. Some call him to raise the banner of ‘new left’, i.e. to fight for parity, refunding in vitro method, removing crosses from public areas…
– The young leader of ‘the new left-wing’ prefers the second formation…
– …which need not mean a firm choice. Perhaps he wants to attract the liberal-centre-left electorate connected with Civic Platform today? We will see what is going to happen. A lot will depend on the result of the presidential election and even more on the long-term strategy of Civic Platform. When Tusk’s formation tries to compete with Law and Justice for souls of the right-wing, the chances of the Alliance grow. It gains much space for its expansion. When Civic Platform moves towards the centre and centre-left, the Alliance will have smaller possibilities. Then one can count on a more stable structure of the political scene built by the two post-Solidarity formations.