Problems and Contradictions in the Polish Political System


Prof. Zbigniew Wiktor
Wroclaw University, Poland
Institute of Political Science

1. Problems and Contradictions in the Economy

After the victory of the counter-revolution in Poland in 1989, the old and new bourgeoisie came to power. The bourgeoisie has two wings: the external wing consists of large foreign capital, the international bourgeois forces, their international centers and institutions, as well as the imperialist states. The internal counter-revolution chiefly consists of sections of the former nomenklatura and the Polish petty bourgeoisie. Western capital plays the leading position and the dominant role, especially German, US, Italian and French capital. Politically, both sides of the counter-revolution work together, but there are many differences between them. Common interests and spheres of influence were primarily worked out during the so-called "Round Table" meeting from February to April of 1989. There a political agreement was signed between "Solidarity" and the victorious counter-revolutionary forces in the leadership of the Polish United Workers Party and its allies. From April until June of 1989 there was a historical verdict against People's Poland, against socialist construction, as well as against the international socialist community. The discussions at the Round Table took place with the blessings of the Catholic Church, particularly the church hierarchy and Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) personally. Two influential bishops were not only the moderators but also the mentors of the Round Table, and the Catholic Church actively supported the changes in the direction of "democracy" and with a great deal of religious activity.

The counter-revolution in Poland also received covert support from similar counter-revolutionary forces that existed in the Soviet Union, in the CPSU as well as in other revisionist and opportunist parties in the European countries of "actually existing socialism."

Very shortly after these events there arose dramatic negative economic consequences of the counter-revolutionary reaction in Poland. First of all was the massive privatization of the economy. The proletariat, the workers and other working people, who in People's Poland were the subjects of sovereignty, were once again expropriated and proletarianized. All the people's enterprises were considered abandoned property and stolen goods. Thousands of formerly socialist enterprises as well as whole branches of industry were sold to foreign capitalist companies or to the Polish nomenklatura for the symbolic price of one zloty. The whole fortune was "sold" for about 10% of its real value. Many enterprises were shut down or completely destroyed, particularly because of foreign competition. Now after 20 years, the "transformation" is called a process of de-industrialization. Examples of this are the construction industry, particularly the technical, machine, electronics, auto and furniture industries, the radical limitation of the mining industry, particularly the coal and metallurgical industry. Also, the shipyards in Gdansk, Szczecin and Gdynia quickly disappeared. Recently the workers of these enterprises have been fighting to keep their remaining positions.

In the countryside there have also been great changes in property relations. The first victims were the state agricultural property, whose land was bought by speculators and rich farmers. Many of the large machine stations and offices were let go as scrap metal, and others were looted. The offices now look like big ruins, as after a war. Also the Polish co-operatives, although they did not play a great role in agricultural production, were practically all restricted and even liquidated; only a small share have conformed to the new economic, juridical structural conditions.

As a result of these economic and property changes, the national income has fallen greatly, it has changed its internal structure; the Polish economy has become a rear area, first of the European Economic Community (EEC) and now of the European Union (EU). In 2007 almost 68% of the national income was produced by the private sector and about 21% by the public sector. The other 11% belongs to other sources of income.

Internationally, Poland became greatly dependent on the EEC, later the EU, and on NATO. On May 1, 2004, the Polish Republic became a member of the EU, although the EU's companies were already active in Poland since 1989 and Poland had to fulfill their structural and institutional conditions and demands. This affected not only the economic sphere but also the social and political spheres. Since 1989, Poland has been a member of NATO, which also had great consequences in the change of its military doctrine, military strategy and tactics. At once the Polish government supported the 1999 attack of the USA on Yugoslavia, then in 2001 the attack on Afghanistan and in 2003 the attack on Iaq. Thus Polish military contingents were sent to these two countries. The military dependency was also expressed in the striving of both the Polish and US governments for the installation of so-called anti-missile shields of the USA on Polish territory. On August 20, 2008 a treaty was signed in Warsaw between the two governments. This is a very dangerous policy for Poland, especially for the Polish people.

As a result of this process Poland has actually lost its economic as well as its political and military sovereignty. More than 60% of Polish industry is the property of foreign capital, more than 80% of Polish banks and financial concerns are under the control of Western financial institutions. More than 50% of trade turnover is carried out by international trading corporations. At present there is a sharp struggle around the land and real estate, as to whether until 2012 there will still be transitional structural restrictions imposed by the EU under the Copenhagen Agreement for the integration of Poland into the EU.

An example of Poland's great economic and financial dependency is its dramatic indebtedness. At the end of 1088, the last year of People's Poland, its debt was about $20 billion. At the end of 2007, its external debt grew to $160 billion. In addition there are 150 billion zlotys of internal debt. After 20 years of counter-revolution the Polish Republic stands at the edge of total destruction. This is a national catastrophe.

2. Social Problems

These great economic and international changes have also had dramatic social consequences. Shortly after the taking of power there was great and chronic unemployment. In People's Poland there was no unemployment. On the contrary, there was a shortage of labor power. Unemployment has become a pathological social phenomenon, which did not fall from the sky; it is a consequence of capitalist social-economic relations. In People's Poland the people had already forgotten about the former capitalist unemployment. They were used to constant full employment. It was also "normal" that the working people had the right to a job, to relaxation; the youth had a right to education and the sick to highly skilled free medical help. Today all these achievements of socialism are history. After the privatization of the economy there is now a struggle around the privatization of social and health services. Step by step the workers and other working people have to pay for everything; sometimes they must choose between bread and medicine.

Unemployment has negative and sometimes dramatic effects on the unemployed and their families. This varies depending on the time and the economic conjuncture of the phenomenon. Sometimes it increases when the' economic crisis deepens, then it falls, but nevertheless its extent in Poland is very great. According to official statistics, the greatest wave of unemployment was at the beginning of the 21st century (2000-2001), when the Solidarity parties ruled. It grew systematically and in this period there were about 3 million unemployed, about 20% of the workforce, but to this one must add about 1.5 million people in concealed unemployment, particularly in the countryside, as a consequence of the liquidation of jobs in so-called small industry in the small towns as well as among small-farm workers.

These social processes have led to deep social consequences for the families of millions of workers and small farmers. There is hardship and misery, old and new diseases are spreading, about 300,000 homeless people have nowhere to live. Many families are learning about hunger. Every third child goes to school hungry. Half of the students spend their summer holidays at home; the subsidizing of massive summer colonies and youth camps belongs to history. Polish sports, particularly mass sports, has collapsed. One could give many other examples. The natural population growth is in a catastrophic situation. The birth rate has fallen dramatically. For example, in the last years of People's Poland there were about 700,000 children born each year; now, according to above-mentioned sources, there are about 360,000 to 380,000, or about 50% fewer, and thus the increase in population is about zero. In the last year of People's Poland there were about 1.5 million young families without their own homes and that was one of the sharpest criticisms of the people's government by Solidarity. Now, however, this number has grown threefold to 4.5 million young families, even though there are empty apartments under the "free market", but for rich people. In the 1970s almost 300,000 new apartments were built each year; now there are about 100,000. Apartments have been transformed from social property to market property. Now one square meter of an apartment in the city costs a minimum of 5 to 10 or even 20 thousand zlotys (1.5 to 3 to 6 thousand Euros) and the apartments are only affordable for well-situated and rich people. This situation has become even worse during the latest acute financial crisis. Now foreign capital (foreign finance) is rapidly flowing out of Poland and the credit rates grew from 10 to 20% in one month.

Unemployment in Poland is chronic and massive, but there is also almost no material support from the state or from local authorities. Only 10% of the unemployed receive a small amount of unemployment compensation for one year. 80% of the unemployed are young people who, after graduation from vocational schools, but also from academic schools, or even from universities, cannot find work. For this reason, social and economic emigration is increasing, particularly to England, Ireland, Germany, France, Canada, the USA, etc. According to official information, in the last five years between 2 and 2.5 million people, predominantly young people, left the Polish Republic. There are skilled and highly skilled people, such as engineers, doctors, nurses, scientists, and so forth. This so-called flight of the best minds is dangerous for Poland, and strengthens the rich countries. This is the main reason for the reduction of unemployment in Poland in the last year. The official rate has declined, but not through the development of the economy or the creation of new jobs, but through large emigration. In this way the population structure has worsened, as the proportion of retired people increases and the proportion of those in the workforce decreases. As a result the consciousness of the workers and the unemployed is changing. The resistance against "Solidarity" and its parties and against capitalism is growing. Disappointment with and opposition to the "Solidarity" camp is increasing.

3. The Changes in the Political System in Poland

The bourgeoisie in the struggle against socialism in Poland used the force of international capital as well as of the internal anti-socialist forces. The external and internal counter-revolution united in the struggle against People's Poland. They used the rules and institutions of present-day democracy in the capitalist states as well as the institutions of the pre-World War II Polish state. The main work of the theoretical-institutional foundations of the new state took place a long time ago, but the foundations of the new liberal-bourgeois republic were worked out in 1989 at the so-called "Round Table." The present political system of Poland was a negation of People's Poland and it was built up with strong anti-socialism, anti-Sovietism and anti-communism. These phenomena are particularly expressed in the introduction to the Constitution and in Article 13 of the Constitution.

The last 20 years can be broken up into several periods: 1) the years 1989-1992, 2) the years 1992-1997, 3) the years 1998-2005, and 4) the years 2006-2008 and later. The first years were marked by qualitative changes in structure. New political-state institutions and political parties were formed, and consequently the earlier socialist institutions and relations were liquidated. In 1992 the so-called small Constitution was approved, which formed the constitutional framework for the new capitalist system. The second period ended in 1997 with the new Constitution of the Polish Republic. It established new state organs as well as liberal values and principles; anti-communism was formulated in Article 13, in which communism is placed on the same level as fascism and Nazism. The third period is marked by the strengthening 'of the rule of capital and the defeat of Social-Democracy (SLD). The fourth period is bound up with the strengthening of the neo-liberal and conservative-Christian parties and it is continuing through today. All these changes are deeply bound up with the co-operation of European as well as world capitalism and the striving of the bourgeois parties to join NATO (1999) as well as the European Union (2004).

From the beginning of the new system until 2005, the political game was between two political camps: 1) "Solidarity" and its parties and 2) the so-called "post-communists", that is, traitors from the ranks of the former Polish United Workers Party – the social-democrats – SLD. All these forces carried out a sharp struggle for power, but the strategic goal of both camps was the same: anti-communism, privatization, the striving to join NATO and the EEC or EU. The Catholic Church held a particularly strong position as a super-party; it also created an alternative, not only as a religious organization, in Polish society. They obtained thousands of new churches, chapels and many other buildings, not only religious ones. They carried out massive educational activities in public teaching institutions. They had direct and indirect contact and great influence with the state system, even though the Catholic Church is officially separated from the state. They have special connections with the government, parliament, army, popular education and property as well as land. For the last 20 years not only has the political influence of the church grown greatly, but so has its economic wealth as well as public consciousness. There are church radio and television stations as well as many newspapers. Religious organizations have grown, as well as superstition, black hundreds; idealism and anti-rationalism in public life. In many spheres unfortunately Poland is going back to the Middle Ages.

Since 2005 the social-democratic parties, in particular the Democratic Left Alliance - the SLD -have been losing heavily. They lost many supporters and votes and now they are a small party with about 5% of the vote. This weakening has increased during the last split up of many leaders in the ranks of the Social-Democrats, that is the Left, Center, Right, New Left, European Left, Polish Socialists, Ecologists, etc. The communists were quite marginalized - the newly formed Communist Party of Poland was formed 7 years earlier after the liquidation of the Alliance of Polish Communists "Proletariat" by the decree of the Supreme Court of Justice.

Since 2005, there has been a two-party system in the Polish parliament – Civic Platform (a neoliberal party) and Law and Justice (a Christian conservative party). For two years power belonged to the latter under the leadership of Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech A. Kaczynski as state president. In the years 2005-2007 they moved Poland further in the direction of anti-communism and intolerance as the so-called Fourth Polish Republic. After an earlier Parliamentary election in September of 2007, they lost power to the neoliberals, but they strengthened their position in Parliament with a stronger Parliamentary faction.

The Christian conservative party of the Kaczynski brothers uses strong social phraseology and in its ranks there are many supporters of the crypto-fascist authoritarian movement, which officially bases its ideology and political positions on Marshal Joseph Pilsudski of pre-war Poland. This party was broadly supported by the Catholic Church in the Parliamentary election in 2005, but in the next election in 2007 the Catholic Church was split into a neo-liberal wing and a Kaczynski wing. This was the main reason for the Parliamentary victory of the neoliberals in 2007.

The liberals now want to further limit the social rights of the working people. Therefore the resistance of the workers and other working people has increased, which has been expressed in a broad wave of large strikes. Not only have the miners gone on strike, but also metallurgists, shipyard workers in Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin, as well as teachers, who have been in conflict with the government for years. Also customs officials and even the police have gone on strike. In the last week there has been a new union of the largest labor federations. This means that the class struggle in Poland is heading into a new phase.

Translated from German by George Gruenthal, NSC Webmaster

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